Georgia County Government - Fall 2013 - (Page 83)

COUNTIES & THE LAW The Supreme Court, the Voting Rights Act and Georgia Counties By Kelly J.L. Pridgen ACCG Assistant General Counsel In June, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision on the Voting Rights Act that removed the requirement that Georgia counties must receive approval, or preclearance, for certain decisions that impact voting and elections. In Shelby County v. Holder, 133 S.Ct 2612 (2013), the Court struck down the coverage formula established by Congress that was used to determine which states and local governments receive preclearance from the Department of Justice (DOJ) for voting procedure changes because it had not been updated to reflect current conditions. >> While Georgia counties no longer have to seek preclearance, county officials must still work to make election practices nondiscriminatory – both in purpose and in effect. Background Since the 1960s, Georgia counties have been required to send proposed changes affecting voting to the DOJ for preclearance. Georgia was considered a covered jurisdiction because it had voting tests, for example literacy tests, and low voter turnout when the Voting Rights Act was originally passed nearly 50 years ago. Until June, boards of commissioners were required to prove to the DOJ that any proposed changes regarding SPLOST, alcoholic beverage or other referendums, the location of polling places, or personnel procedures impacting employees’ participation in campaign activities, did not deny or limit the right to vote because of race or color. Additionally, if the General Assembly passed local legislation changing the county commission districts, changing to district elections from at-large elections (or vice versa), imposing a designated post system, staggering terms, changing term lengths, changing commissioner qualifications, etc., commissioners were required to file for preclearance. Once a preclearance application was filed by the county, the U.S. Attorney General (AG) had 60 days to object if he or she felt that the county failed to prove that the change would not limit the right to vote based upon race. According to the DOJ website ( about/vot/sec_5/ga_obj2.php), the Attorney General objected to a Georgia county’s or consolidated government’s preclearance submission 38 times since the Voting Rights Act took effect in the 1960s, and seven of those objections were later withdrawn. The vast majority of the objections, approximately 84 percent, were made in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Since 2000, the AG has objected five times to a preclearance request of a Georgia county or consolidated government. Redistricting and the creation of at-large districts were the two most frequent objections to county preclearance requests. In the case of cities, the most frequent objection was requiring majority votes and the creation of posts. In the case of school boards, the most frequent objections were the establishment of at-large districts, residency requirements and redistricting. Impact of Decision on Georgia Counties Unless and until Congress updates the coverage formula, Georgia counties are not required to file proposed changes to election procedures to the DOJ 60 days or more in advance of an election, primary, referendum or other election decision. Congress may do nothing which means that Georgia counties will not be required to seek preclearance, until they apply the preclearance requirement to every government in the country or change the requirements that establish which governments should be required to file for preclearance. While Georgia counties no longer have to seek preclearance, county officials must still work to make election practices non-discriminatory – both in purpose and in effect. The remainder of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as well as the 14 th and 15 th Amendments to the Constitution, still prohibits procedures that deny or limit a citizen’s right to vote based upon race or color. There is speculation that the DOJ will use the resources previously used on preclearance objections to enforce Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits procedures that limits any citizen’s right to vote based upon their race or color. FALL 2013 83

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Georgia County Government - Fall 2013

President’s Message
Director’s Desk
UGA’s Archway Partnership: Empowerment for Georgia’s Communities
Oglethorpe County: Focusing on the Benefi ts of Protecting Rural Roots
Eliminating Risks: LGRMS Celebrates 25 Years
Where Do We Stand? One Year after Georgia’s Criminal Justice Reform
Understanding the Impacts of Juvenile Justice Reform
New Jail Facilities: Counties Focus on New Technology and Capacity to Expand
2013 Legislative Service Award Recipients
Hospital Survival: Informed County Commissioners Can Preserve Local Health Care
Federal New: More Gridlock and Uncertainty May Be Expected in Washington for FY 2014
Slice by Slice: Students Learn About the Signifi cance of Agriculture on Pizza Farms
Talking Trees with Georgia’s County Commissioners
Partner News: Value at the Heart of the Unique Gas South-ACCG Partnership
Commercial Swimming Pool Renovations Do’s and Don’ts
Counties & The Law: The Supreme Court, the Voting Rights Act and Georgia Counties
Legal News: Bidding in Georgia: What to Do When the Lowest
Conference Preview: Legislative Leadership
News & Notes
Index of Advertisers

Georgia County Government - Fall 2013