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By Michael D. Hernandez

State and federal lawmakers are far from done with fallout from the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision that disengaged a key provision of the Voting Rights Act.

And whether states will again face federal scrutiny of elections policy changes is still unclear, panelists said Tuesday during a session at NCSL’s Legislative Summit in Minneapolis.

The discussion focused on what states and the federal government have proposed in the wake of the court’s ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which removed preclearance requirements for nine states and several jurisdictions in other states. Those states and jurisdictions no longer have to seek federal approval for proposed voting changes that range from relocating a polling place to redrawing a voting jurisdiction’s boundaries.

The federal government, through lawsuits in Texas and North Carolina, appears intent on using another provision of the Voting Rights Act to ensure states are not harming minority voters, said Lisa Soronen, executive director of the State and Local Legal Center.

Some states have seen legislation and ballot measures this year to address the absence of preclearance.

Illinois Representative Arthur Turner, a panelist, said his state this year passed a resolution that will ask voters to approve an amendment to Illinois’ constitution that would gird against voter discrimination.

“We don’t think our law was a direct result of Shelby but about trend in other states,” Turner said.

Mississippi Representative William Denny said when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was enacted, it served an important purpose in rooting out discrimination. But it was meant to be a temporary measure, Denny said, yet it was renewed several times by Congress without enough consideration in recent years about its current efficacy.

“When is enough ?” Denny asked about whether states previously covered by preclearance requirements should again face federal scrutiny.

Susan Frederick, who serves as NCSL’s federal affairs counsel, said it is too early to tell if Congress will move forward on a proposed bill that would strengthen the Voting Rights Act by creating a new coverage formula that would resurrect preclearance requirements. Frederick provided an analysis of the bill.

Michael D. Hernandez is an NCSL elections policy specialist.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.

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