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More Alaska redistricting litigation? Attorney General challenges Voting Rights Act 'preclearance'

Alaska Dispatch

In a Thursday press reelase, the state of Alaska has expressed its opposition to the federal requirement that Alaska obtain federal pre-clearance for changes the state makes to its election process.

The announcement comes more than a week after a U.S. District court judge ruled in Anchorage that preparations for the next Alaska election can proceed, pending federal approval of a revised plan to redraw the state's election districts based on data from the 2010 Census.

The judge didn't rule on the merits of the plan, but did pave the way for a three-judge panel to consider on June 28 whether election planning can proceed pending final approval from the U.S. Department of Justice under Section 5 of the U.S. Voting Rights Act.

Alaska is one of a handful of states with a history of discrimination against minorities that are required under the Voting Rights Act to obtain federal approval before any changes to electoral processes.

The announcement says that the state "argues Section 5 is unconstitutional because it involves an extraordinary federal intrusion into the management of elections, a task the Constitution leaves to the states" and that "Section 5 is unfair because it requires only some states, but not others, to receive federal permission for electoral changes.

"Under Section 5, if the state wants to move a polling place across the street, it has to get federal permission. If it wants to change the wording on a form, it has to get federal permission,” Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, who oversees the state Division of Elections, was quoted as saying in the press release. "This federal intrusion into our state elections is unnecessary, burdensome, and unconstitutional. Congress has no basis to micromanage Alaska’s elections. It’s time to get out from under this yoke."

Section 5 is intended to protect the voting rights of minorities who have historically been disenfranchised, and Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty said the state's challenge doesn't extend to the entire Voting Rights Act.

“The state is not challenging the Voting Rights Act’s prohibition against discrimination in voting, nor is it challenging the state’s obligation under the Voting Rights Act to provide language assistance to voters,” said Geraghty. “Helping voters with limited English proficiency is important to ensure that everyone can exercise his or her right to vote.
 
“We are challenging only the portion of the law that forces Alaska to get federal permission before making any changes to its electoral process,” Geraghty continued.