The Justice Department announced that it has reached an agreement with Merced County, Calif., that will allow for the county and some 84 political subdivisions in the county that conduct elections to bail out from their status as “covered jurisdictions” under the special provisions of the Voting Rights Act, and thereby exempt these jurisdictions 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.
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 for the District of Columbia or from the U.S. Attorney General, prior to their implementation. Section 4 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 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.
Merced County filed its bailout action in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on March 6, 2012. Counsel for the county contacted the attorney general prior to filing the action, indicating that the county was interested in seeking a 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 the department’s view, the county has met the requirements necessary for bailout. We reached this conclusion after thoroughly reviewing information provided by the county and gathered during the department’s independent investigation,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “I commend the county on their cooperation to ensure resolution of this matter.”
The consent decree details the legal and factual basis for a bailout determination and, if approved by the court, the county’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 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.