The Justice Department announced today that it has reached an agreement with the State of New Hampshire that will allow for all 10 of the towns in that state that are covered jurisdictions under the special provisions of the Voting Rights Act to bail out from coverage by these provisions. These 10 covered jurisdictions are the towns or townships of Antrim, Benton, Boscawen, Millsfield, Newington, Pinkham’s Grant, Rindge, Stewartstown, Stratford, and Unity, in New Hampshire. Bailout would exempt these 10 towns, along with local school districts within these towns, from the preclearance requirements of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The agreement is in the form of a consent decree filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and must be approved by the court.
“In the department’s view, these covered towns and townships have met the requirements necessary for bailout. We reached this conclusion after thoroughly reviewing information provided by the State and the covered jurisdictions gathered during the department’s independent investigation,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “I commend the State and the covered jurisdictions on their cooperation to ensure resolution of this matter.”
Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, certain covered jurisdictions, determined according to Section 5 of the act, are required to seek preclearance for any changes in voting qualifications, standards, practices or procedures from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia or from the U.S. attorney general, prior to their implementation. Section 5 of the act provides that a covered jurisdiction may seek to “bail out,” 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 the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. A bailout judgment can be issued only if the court determines 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 only if, based upon investigation, the attorney general is satisfied that the jurisdiction meets the eligibility requirements.
The state of New Hampshire filed its bailout action on behalf of the 10 covered towns and townships in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Nov. 15, 2012. Counsel for the state contacted the attorney general prior to filing the action, indicating that the State was interested in seeking to bailout its covered jurisdictions. The state and covered jurisdictions provided the Justice Department with substantial information, and the department conducted an investigation to determine the covered towns and townships’ eligibility. Based on that investigation, the department is satisfied that the 10 covered towns and townships meet the Voting Rights Act’s requirements for bailout.
The consent decree details the legal and factual basis for a bailout determination and, if approved by the court, the State’s request will be granted. The court will retain jurisdiction of the action for 10 years and can reopen the action upon the motion of the attorney general or any aggrieved person alleging conduct by the towns or townships that would have originally precluded the covered towns or townships from bailing out if it had occurred during the 10-year period preceding entry of the consent decree.
Information about bailout, the Voting Rights Act and other federal voting laws is available on the Department of Justice website at www.justice.gov/crt/voting . Complaints may be reported to the Voting Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division at 1-800-253-3931.