After the U.S. Supreme Court neutered a key portion of the Voting Rights Act, it didn't take long for states to resurrect efforts to put limits on voting that harm minorities. That left it to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to aggressively use other sections of the law instead of the protections the court has dismantled. Holder should keep his eye on Florida, where Gov. Rick Scott is determined to purge the voter rolls even though the first attempt last year was a mess and was rejected by county elections supervisors.
The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in June that the act's preclearance formula was invalid. It released all covered jurisdictions, nine states and dozens of localities — including Florida's Hillsborough, Collier, Hardy, Hendry and Monroe counties — from having to get federal approval before adopting new voting procedures. The move undermined the most effective means of preventing discriminatory voting changes in states with a history of bias, particularly in the South.
Holder's response is the best available under the circumstances. He plans to invoke a rarely used provision of the Voting Rights Act, Section 3, to ask the federal judiciary to impose preclearance requirements where discrimination in voting persists. Holder made his first stand in Texas in a lawsuit where black and Hispanic voters challenged the state's redistricting maps. The Justice Department also may seek help from the federal courts in North Carolina, which is on the verge of adopting strict new voter ID requirements and shortening early voting by a week, which will adversely affect minority and low-income voters.
Section 3 requires a showing of intentional discrimination, a tougher standard than in other parts of the law where demonstrating a discriminatory impact is sufficient. But in states where minority voters tend to vote as a bloc against the party in power, it should be clear enough that lawmakers use subtle tactics like tough and expensive voter ID rules or cut back on early voting to dilute minority voting strength.
Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner plans to reinstitute a voter purge of noncitizens that was eventually dropped before the November election after elections supervisors and the Justice Department protested. The state claims the lists are more reliable now that they are cross-checked with a federal database managed by the Department of Homeland Security, but elections supervisors are justifiably wary. After the Supreme Court's voting rights ruling, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a suit challenging the purge.
Of course noncitizens should not be allowed to vote in Florida. But Holder should review Florida's situation and be prepared to go to federal court if the state fails to protect the voting rights of minority citizens as it seeks to purge the rolls. A statewide preclearance requirement would protect the state's minority voters from efforts to make voting harder, and it would protect the fundamental right to vote for all.