WASHINGTON – The Justice Department has reached an agreement with Bedford County, Va., that, if approved by the court, will allow for the county’s bailout from its status as a “covered jurisdiction” under the special provisions of Voting Rights Act, and thereby exempt the county from the preclearance requirements of Section 5 of the act. The agreement is in the form of a consent decree filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, certain covered jurisdictions, determined according to Section 4 of the act, are required to seek 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 district court. Such a bailout judgment can only be issued 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 if, based upon investigation, the attorney general is satisfied that the jurisdiction meets the eligibility requirements.
Bedford County, Va., filed its bailout action in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. on March 8, 2011. County officials had contacted the attorney general prior to filing its action, indicating that the county was interested in seeking bailout. The county provided the Justice Department with substantial information, and the department conducted an investigation to determine the county’s eligibility. Based on that investigation, the department is satisfied that the county meets the Voting Rights Act’s requirements for bailout.
“In this case, the department carefully evaluated the information the county provided to us and conducted our own investigation, which has satisfied the department that the county is eligible for a bailout,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “I appreciate the cooperation of county officials in providing the department with substantial information, and moving toward a resolution of this matter in the way envisioned by the Voting Rights Act.”
The consent decree details the legal and factual basis for a bailout determination and, if approved, will grant the county’s request. 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 county that would have originally precluded the county 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.