County GOP chairman backs County Commission’s challenge of voting procedures

By BRAD GASKINS / Staff Writer

The chairman of the Shelby County Republican Party said Friday that he supports the Shelby County Commission’s challenge of the preclearance requirements in the Voting Rights Act and disagrees with a federal judge’s Sept. 21 ruling.

“The federal court had the opportunity to alleviate some long-outdated aspects of the Voting Rights Act, but with Judge (John D.) Bates’ ruling, failed to do so,” Chairman Freddy Ard said. “It is unfortunate that only certain states and jurisdictions are overseen in a process that exerts undue requirements on our county, state and region that are not equitably applied elsewhere. Alabama, and particularly Shelby County, should be treated no differently than any other part of the nation.”

Shelby County Commissioners passed a resolution April 26, 2010 to challenge Sections 4(b) and 5 of the Voting Rights Act, with all expenses covered by the Project for Fair Representation, a not-for-profit legal defense fund designed to support litigation that challenges racial and ethnic classifications and preferences in state and federal courts.

Shelby County asked the court to rule those two sections unconstitutional and prohibit U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder from enforcing them.

“Shelby County and the state of Alabama would not be subject to coverage if the formula set forth in Section 4(b) were based on data from any of the last three presidential elections instead of data from November 1964,” the county stated in its suit.

As a “covered” jurisdiction, the county must get preclearance to change all voting practices and procedures, no matter how minor a change may seem. When the county wanted to move a Helena voting site from a church to the new Helena Community Center, for example, it was unable to do so without federal approval.

The county stated in its suit that it has “expended significant taxpayer dollars, time, and energy” complying with Section 5 in the last 10 years.

When Congress reauthorized the Voting Rights Act for 25 more years in 2006, it “lacked the evidence of intentional discrimination that warranted the enactment of the VRA in 1965 and its extensions in 1970, 1975 and 1982,” the county’s suit stated.

Ard said the way Shelby County conducts its elections provides “overwhelming evidence and resounding proof that our county requires no such selective and punitive oversight in order to provide fair and honest elections, and especially insofar as opportunities for minorities are concerned.”

Ard said he is “proud that Shelby County is leading by example in this regard and, furthermore, that the pathway is free of obstructions for minorities to be elected in our county.”

In the last 10 years, Shelby County has elected minorities in two different county commission district elections and, in 2010, a school board member in a countywide election, Ard said.

“I concur with the objections filed by the county commission which call the continued monitoring ‘outdated’ and that it should no longer need federal approval before changing even minor election procedures such as moving a polling place or redrawing school district lines,” Ard said.