WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced that it reached agreements this week with the city of Kings Mountain, N.C., and the city of Sandy Springs, Ga., in the form of consent decrees filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. If approved by the court, the decrees will allow for Kings Mountain and Sandy Springs to bailout from their status as a "covered jurisdictions" under the Voting Rights Act, thereby exempting them from the preclearance requirements of Section 5 of the act. The bailout standard requires that a covered jurisdiction demonstrates nondiscriminatory behavior for 10 years prior to filing.
Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, certain covered jurisdictions, determined by Section 4 of the act, are required to seek approval, known as "preclearance," for any changes in voting qualifications, standards, practices or procedures from the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., or from the U.S. Attorney General, prior to their implementation. Section 4 of the act provides that a covered jurisdiction may seek to "bailout" or remove itself from such coverage, and therefore be exempted from the preclearance requirements, by seeking a declaratory judgment before a three-judge panel in federal court in Washington. Such a bailout judgment can be issued only if the district court makes a determination that the jurisdiction meets certain eligibility requirements for bailout contained in the statute, including a 10-year record of nondiscrimination in voting-related actions. The act also provides that the attorney general can consent to entry of a judgment of bailout if, based upon investigation, the attorney general is satisfied that the jurisdiction meets the eligibility requirements.
Kings Mountain filed its bailout action in federal court in Washington in July 2010 and Sandy Springs filed its bailout action on Sept. 7, 2010. Kings Mountain and Sandy Springs officials contacted the attorney general several months prior to filing their bailout actions, indicating that the cities were interested in seeking bailout. Each city provided the department with substantial information and the department conducted an extensive investigation to determine their eligibility. Based on that investigation, the department is satisfied that Kings Mountain and Sandy Springs meet the Voting Rights Act’s requirements for bailout.
Sandy Springs also expressed a desire to conduct its own elections in the future. In the event Sandy Springs decides to administer its own municipal elections, the city has agreed to undertake certain constructive measures to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act, such as forming an advisory group regarding city elections, recruiting a diverse group of poll workers and mailing a sample ballot and information to every voter prior to each city election, among other actions.
The consent decrees filed in court detail the legal and factual basis for bailout determinations and, if approved, will grant these requests. The court will retain jurisdiction of each action for 10 years and can reopen an action upon the motion of the attorney general or any aggrieved person alleging conduct by the city that would have originally precluded the city from bailing out if it had occurred during the 10 year period preceding entry of the consent decree.
"In the Voting Rights Act, Congress provided a means for covered jurisdictions to be exempted from the preclearance requirements of Section 5 upon a clear showing that a jurisdiction meets the specific eligibility requirements of the Act." said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "I am very pleased that city officials in both jurisdictions have worked cooperatively with the department in providing the information that we have requested and in moving toward a resolution of this matter in the way envisioned by the Voting Rights Act."
Information about bailout, the Voting Rights Act, and other federal voting laws is available on the Department of Justice web site at www.usdoj.gov/crt/voting/. Complaints may be reported to the Voting Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division at 1-800-253-3931.