States promise quick action on election laws

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South Carolina has successfully implemented a voter identification law, but only after revising its preferred policy after Gov. Nikki Haley and other Republicans negotiated with the Obama administration. Under the court’s ruling, no negotiations would’ve been necessary.

Within hours of Tuesday’s decision, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott declared on Twitter, “(U.S. Attorney General) Eric Holder can no longer deny VoterID in Texas.” The Texas Department of Public Safety announced later in the day that on Thursday it would begin distributing photo IDs under a 2011 law that Holder’s lawyers had blocked under Section 5.

In Mississippi, the secretary of state said her office would begin enforcing a pending voter ID law for primaries in June 2014. North Carolina Republicans said they plan swift action on a pending voter ID bill.

Laughlin McDonald, who heads the American Civil Liberties Union’s voting rights office, said he agrees that pending submissions to the Justice Department are now moot. It’s less clear what happens to scores of laws that the feds have already denied since the 2006 reauthorization. McDonald said he believes a state or other covered jurisdiction would have a strong case to argue that it could implement any affected law it has passed since the reauthorization.

That could be an issue in some disputes over at-large voting districts. The Justice Department denied some proposals where the population of an entire county or city would elect all representatives of a governing body, potentially diluting the influence of a minority that would otherwise be able to influence outcomes within single districts.

The case does not affect the act’s Section 2 prohibition against voter discrimination based on race, color or other minority status. Still, the burden shifts to a citizen who must prove discrimination, whereas the preclearance process required state and local governments to prove in advance that a policy wouldn’t harm minority voters. Also untouched is Section 3, which allows the government to require preclearance based on more recent discrimination. The Justice Department has used that provision to extend oversight in Arkansas and New Mexico.

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, a Republican who supports the court’s finding, said Section 2 gives citizens a legal recourse, while Section 3 gives the government a tool to police wayward local officials. He noted that Holder used Section 2 to go after Pennsylvania’s voter ID law in a state not covered by preclearance.

“Look,” he said, “this is already happening in other states and nobody is screaming and hollering about it.”

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