County to sue federal government over Voting Rights Act

The Shelby County Commission approved a resolution at its April 26 meeting to allow the county to file a lawsuit against the federal government over part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

County attorney Butch Ellis said Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act forbids cities and towns in nine states, including Alabama, from making changes in voting practices or procedures without approval from the federal government. The lawsuit will challenge the constitutionality of such a requirement.

“It doesn’t matter what you do, if it has anything to do with elections, you have to get clearance from Washington, D.C.,” Ellis said at the meeting.

The lawsuit will be paid for in full by the Project on Fair Representation, a not-for-profit legal defense fund supporting challenges against racial preferences in state and federal courts.

Ellis said the lawsuit would be filed swiftly, although he did not have an exact date for the filing.

Commissioner Lindsey Allison said she originally had concerns about filing a lawsuit, but has come to view it as a responsibility to citizens.

“At first I had a lot of reservations, but after I learned about it and about how much time, money and energy it costs us, it was almost a no-brainer,” she said. “It was almost an obligation.”

In an earlier interview, Ellis said there were several examples of problems the county has had with the Section 5 requirements. Most recently, the county wanted to move a Helena voting site from a church to the new Helena Community Center, but was unable to do so without federal approval.

“You can’t even move a quarter of a mile up the road without going to Washington and getting them to approve it,” Ellis said. “The problem is, through no fault of its own, Shelby County is required to make these costly and burdensome submissions to the Justice Department for everything that we try to do. We don’t think it’s constitutional, we don’t think it’s legal, we don’t think it’s valid.”

In other action at the commission meeting:

— County Manager Alex Dudchock said a building housing 12 hangars would be completed at the Shelby County Airport within 60 days.

All 12 hangars have already been leased, which means the county can begin work on another building housing 12 more hangars as soon as the Federal Aviation Administration gives approval.

Dudchock said the county is hoping to begin construction on the next building in August and September. The 12 hangars to be housed in that building have already been leased as well, and there are 20 more customers on a waiting list for hangars, Dudchock said.

— Dudchock also reported 77 percent of the county has turned in the 2010 U.S. Census form as of April 26. Indian Springs has the highest participation rate at 84 percent, with Chelsea and Helena right behind at 81 percent. Wilton has the lowest participation rate at 64 percent.

— The commission reappointed Ken Blackmon, Robert Doyle and Jennifer Trammell to the Shelby County Economic and Industrial Development Authority. Billy Jones was also appointed to the board to replace Jean Rasco.