The Justice Department announced that it has reached agreements with Carroll County and Craig County, Va., that will allow the counties and their political subdivisions 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 with Carroll County, Va., will cover the county and its two political subdivisions, the Carroll County School District and the Town of Hillsville, Va. Additionally, the agreement with Craig County, Va., will cover the county and its two political subdivisions, the Craig County School District and the Town of New Castle, Va. The agreements are in the form of consent decrees 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.
Carroll County and Craig County filed these bailout actions in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on July 17, 2012, and July 18, 2012, respectively. Counsel for both counties contacted the attorney general prior to filing the action, indicating that the counties were interested in seeking a bailout. Both counties provided the Justice Department with substantial information, and the department conducted an investigation to determine their eligibility. Based on that investigation, the department is satisfied that both Carroll and Craig counties meet the Voting Rights Act’s requirements for bailout. “In the department’s view, Carroll County and Craig County have met the requirements necessary for bailout. We reached this conclusion after thoroughly reviewing information provided by the counties and gathered during the department’s independent investigation,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “I commend the counties on their cooperation to ensure resolution of this matter.”
The consent decrees detail the legal and factual basis for a bailout determination and, if approved by the court, the requests will be granted. The court will retain jurisdiction of both cases for 10 years and can reopen either case upon the motion of the Attorney General or any aggrieved person alleging conduct by the counties that would have originally precluded the counties from bailing out if it had occurred during the 10-year period preceding entry of the consent decrees.
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.