A new issue brief by the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy responds to the recent Shelby County v. Holder decision regarding the Voting Rights Act. In the brief, Gilda Daniels discusses the problems that come from changing the monitoring practices of voting jurisdictions. Districts that would have been closely scrutinized before (especially those with a history of unfair voting practices) are now free from public monitoring. As a result, jurisdictions that would have been blocked from making certain changes to their voting practices before Shelby County are able to make those changes now. In Athens, Georgia for example, almost half of the city’s 24 voting places have been closed – their replacements are 2 early voting locations inside of police stations. These replacements mean that some early voters have to travel 3 hours to get to the nearest voting location. Other changes to voting procedures showing the reality of racist voting procedures, which would not have been as easy to make pre-Shelby County, are as follows:
- Due to a revision to Greene County, Georgia’s redistricting plan, the percentage of African-American voters in a majority-minority district has decreased to less than 51%
- County elections in Augusta, Georgia are no longer in November – they were moved to the summertime which is when African-American voter turnout is typically lower
- In Beaumont Texas, after three years of failed attempts to get rid of a school board that was predominantly African-American the effort was successful after last minute votes for school redistricting went through
Daniels suggests that since Congress has the authority to change state laws governing federal elections, then Congress should require states to inform the public of any changes to voting procedures or laws as a measure of accountability. This type of accountability is actually more efficient than what was in place before the Shelby County decision because before states had to go through a preclearance process before making any changes to voting laws and procedures. Here, notice requirements are less interfering because state and local laws can go on without delay.
Patrice Garnette, Joint Center Graduate Scholar, The George Washington University Law School