Voting Rights Act upheld by appeals court

By CHRISTINE BOATWRIGHT / Staff Writer

The federal appeals court in Washington D.C. upheld Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires the U.S. Department of Justice to oversee voting protocol in 16 states, including Alabama.

The judges voted 2-1, and Shelby County Attorney Frank “Butch” Ellis was pleased with the outcome.

“I was pleased the senior judge dissented in our favor,” Ellis said. “I’d rather have one more vote, but the dissent looks solid to me.”

Congress passed the Voting Rights Act in 1964 to protect the voting rights of registered minority voters. Ellis said the Department of Justice had to “pre-clear” a state’s voting procedures if the state met certain criteria, including having less than 50 percent of registers voters voting. In 1964, Alabama met that criteria, and the Department of Justice continues to govern Alabama’s voting policies.

“They use the same criteria today. If they use anything of the last decade’s elections, Alabama wouldn’t have to comply,” Ellis said. “We have larger percentages of blacks and minorities voting now. It’s not the same as it was in 1964. We think this is no longer necessary.”

The American Civil Liberties Union intervened in the case on behalf of the Alabama State Conference of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored people, according to a press release from the ACLU.

“This important ruling recognizes the need to uphold the Voting Rights Act in order to ensure every eligible American citizen can vote, regardless of race or language ability,” said Laughlin McDonald, director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project, in the release.

Ellis said the Department of Justice’s clearance process costs taxpayers “hundreds of thousands of dollars” for simple voting methods, such as the relocation of a voting location.

“It’s time that’s come and gone,” he said.

Ellis said the appeal is “worth the Supreme Court taking a look at.”

“Once we’ve exhausted the procedures in the court of appeals, hopefully the Supreme Court will pick it up and take a look at it,” he said. “I think since there was such a strong dissent, they’ll look at it.”