Justice Department Files Statement of Interest Regarding Section 201 of the Voting Rights Act
WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice today filed a Statement of Interest in a South Carolina federal court to promote the proper and uniform interpretation of the Voting Rights Act. The Statement of Interest is part of the Department of Justice’s continuing efforts around the country to enforce our nation’s federal voting rights laws.
The lawsuit in question, brought by private plaintiffs, involves constitutional and statutory challenges to South Carolina’s witness requirement for absentee ballots. Although private plaintiffs’ constitutional claims relate to the COVID-19 pandemic, plaintiffs have also asked the court to enjoin South Carolina’s witness requirement permanently as a violation of Section 201 of the Voting Rights Act.
The Statement of Interest explains that Section 201 prohibits denial of the right to vote to citizens who fail to prove their qualifications by the voucher of registered voters or members of any other class. However, South Carolina’s absentee witness requirement does not violate Section 201 because it neither requires witnesses to vouch for a voter’s qualifications nor limits the set of acceptable witnesses to registered voters or any other relevant class. The Statement of Interest also explains that a claim under Section 201 must be heard by a three-judge federal district court. The Statement of Interest does not take a position on any of the private plaintiffs’ other claims.
“The Voting Rights Act outlaws certain practices that deprive Americans of the right to vote because of race and other protected traits. The Voting Rights Act does not outlaw all voting-related requirements enacted by the States,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division. “Congress has entrusted the U.S. Department of Justice with enforcement of the Voting Rights Act and the other federal voting rights laws. These laws protect the right of Americans to vote for their preferred candidates. We will continue to enforce them fairly, including by explaining to courts the legal framework that governs challenges to the voting laws enacted by the States.”
“This office will always ensure that the people of South Carolina have their voices heard in the voting booth,” said U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina, Peter M. McCoy, Jr. “This filing indicates that we take that duty seriously, and we will continue to do so.”
Section 201 of the Voting Rights Act is a permanent, nationwide prohibition on the use of tests and devices in our elections. These unlawful procedures include literacy tests, educational achievement or knowledge tests, good moral character requirements, and voucher requirements.
More information about the Voting Rights Act and other federal voting rights laws is available on the Department of Justice website at https://www.justice.gov/crt/voting-section. Complaints about possible violations of the federal voting rights laws may be reported to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division at 1-800-253-3931.