By Michael D. Hernandez
One year after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act and allowed states to make changes to elections laws without first seeking federal approval, at least two states are looking to create their own systems of preclearance.
On Tuesday, California’s Senate Committee on Elections and Constitutional Amendments approved a bill that would establish a state preclearance system for voting procedure changes sought by a political subdivision (a city, school district, community college district or other district organized pursuant to state law). AB 280, which was sent to a state appropriations committee, would require the secretary of state to approve such changes.
Legislators in New York also could create a form of state preclearance process through a provision included in S 7585.
Both of those bills attempt to address the change to the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court’s June 25, 2013, ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which removed preclearance requirements for nine states. Before the court’s ruling, those states and jurisdictions in several more states were required to seek federal approval for proposed voting changes that ranged from relocating a polling place to changing a voting district’s boundaries.
Whether preclearance measures in California and New York can become law remains unclear. Similar proposals in other states have failed this year.
Florida legislators this year introduced companion bills H 1079 and S 1246 that would have required the attorney general or the attorney of a county or municipality to petition the state Supreme Court for a judgment within 30 days to determine if any change to election procedures or voting qualifications denied or abridged a certain person’s right to vote. Both bills died in their respective committees.
Mississippi’s SB 2624 did not seek to create a preclearance mechanism for the state but would have required any changes made to the polling place locations and the boundaries of precincts and election districts to be provided to the secretary of state’s office and posted for 60 days on an online public directory before they could be implemented. That bill died in committee.
A bipartisan group of congressman this year responded to the Supreme Court decision by introducing a bill that would amend the Voting Rights Act. NCSL previously analyzed Congress’ Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014.
Michael D. Hernandez is an NCSL elections policy specialist.