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The Shelby County Decision

On June 25, 2013, the United States Supreme Court held that it is unconstitutional to use the coverage formula in Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act to determine which jurisdictions are subject to the preclearance requirement of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, Shelby County v. Holder, 133 S. Ct. 2612 (2013). The Supreme Court did not rule on the constitutionality of Section 5 itself. The effect of the Shelby County decision is that the jurisdictions identified by the coverage formula in Section 4(b) no longer need to seek preclearance for the new voting changes, unless they are covered by a separate court order entered under Section 3(c) of the Voting Rights Act.

Submitting Voting Changes for Review

The proper format for submissions as well as all other correspondence concerning the Attorney General's review of changes affecting voting is set forth at 28 C.F.R. Part 51.

Sending Mail to the Voting Section

Please note, the Voting Section's postal address (P.O. Box 66128, Washington DC 20035) is no longer in effect.

All mail, including United States Postal Service as well as overnight express services, such as Airborne, DHL, Federal Express, or UPS, should be addressed to: 

U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
Voting Section
950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
4CON 8th Floor
Washington, DC 20530

If you are submitting a voting change for review, please make sure that the front of the envelope identifies it as a submission and that your return address is clearly indicated.

How the Attorney General Reviews Submissions

The Attorney General's authority to review submissions of changes affecting voting under Section 5 and Section 3(c) of the Voting Rights Act has been delegated to the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. All decisions to interpose an objection or to withdraw an objection previously interposed, and all substantive decisions on state-wide legislative redistricting plans are made by the Assistant Attorney General. For other types of submissions the Assistant Attorney General's authority has been delegated to the Chief of the Voting Section.

Upon receipt of a submission, the Department assigns one or more staff members to analyze the proposed voting change. The nature and extent of that analysis will vary, depending upon the change itself and the surrounding circumstances. It often involves telephone interviews with persons representing or associated with the submitting authority, and with private citizens, particularly members of racial or language minority groups. Communications from the public regarding pending submissions are encouraged, and all information or comments received are considered. As part of that analysis, the Department may also examine submissions as well as information available from the United States Census Bureau, the Internet, or other sources.

While every effort is made to complete the analysis so that a determination is made before the end of the 60-day review period, the factual and legal issues presented by a particular submission may be such that the information initially provided by the submitting authority considered together with the information obtained during our investigation is still insufficient to enable the Attorney General to make a determination that the proposed change does not have the purpose and will not have the effect of discriminating on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group. While the Voting Rights Act authorizes the Attorney General to object to the submitted change on that basis, it is the Attorney General's general practice in such circumstances to request additional information, in writing, from the jurisdiction. Upon receipt of a complete response to the request for additional information, a new 60-day period begins for the Attorney General to make the requisite determination.

The Procedures for Making a Submission

>The administrative review process for voting changes is designed to be an expeditious, cost-effective alternative to litigation.

Central to the effective functioning of the administrative review option are the "Part 51 Procedures" originally adopted by the Department of Justice in 1971 and modified in light of experience and legal developments on several occasions since then. Known formally as Procedures for the Administration of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as Amended,; they are codified as Part 51 of Title 28 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

Particular Issues About Making Submissions

The Procedures are written in easy to understand language. However, some specific issues discussed in the Procedures are mentioned below.

First, a voting change must be submitted in written form to begin the review process. While no specific format is required, the submission ordinarily should include the required contents set forth in 28 C.F.R. 51.27 and the supplemental contents, as appropriate. Providing such information in the original submission usually will reduce significantly the need for the Attorney General to contact the submitting official by telephone, and thus increase the likelihood of an early determination on the submission.

Second, a voting change must be procedurally appropriate for review on the merits. The Procedures discuss the types of circumstances that prevent the Attorney General from reviewing a submitted change on the merits.

  • The Attorney General will reject a submission that fails to provide documents or a narrative "adequate to disclose to the Attorney General the difference between the prior and proposed situation with respect to voting." 28 C.F.R. 51.26(d), 51.27(a)-(c) and 51.35.
  • The Attorney General will make no determination regarding a voting change which has not been finally adopted. The Attorney General may nevertheless make a substantive determination with regard to a change for which approval by referendum or by a state or federal court or a federal agency is required if the change is not subject to alteration in the final approving action and all other action necessary for approval has been taken. 28 C.F.R. 51.22.
  • The Attorney General will make no determination regarding a voting change that is directly related to another known covered voting change that has has been already reviewed or submitted for review. For example, the Attorney General will not review a districting plan if it is prompted by an unsubmitted change in the method of electing the jurisdiction's governing body, change in the number of elected officials, or annexations. Similarly, no determination will be made regarding an annexation if other unprecleared boundary changes in that jurisdiction have occurred.

In addition, new redistricting plans themselves often require that other voting changes be made, such as changes affecting voting precincts, polling places, and absentee voting locations. If these changes have been finalized, the jurisdiction should submit them for administrative review with its redistricting submission. The related voting change need not have been adopted by the jurisdiction making the original submission. For example, state legislation authorizing political subdivisions to adopt voting changes ("enabling legislation") requires review. A political subdivision's implementation of the enabled change will not be reviewed if the enabling legislation has not been submitted for review or already reviewed.

Clearly, it is in the covered jurisdiction's interest to submit a voting change as soon as possible after it has been finally adopted, even if its implementation may be many months away (for example, in the next general election). To the extent procedural or substantive issues prevent a determination on the merits occurring within the initial 60-day review period, a prompt submission may allow a sufficient opportunity to resolve such issues in time for the practice (or a revised one) to be implemented as originally anticipated.


Updated November 17, 2023