Traverse City Record-Eagle

Michigan

June 26, 2013

Ruling affects 2 state townships

DETROIT (AP) — A ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court exempts two small Michigan townships with sizeable numbers of Spanish-speaking residents from needing federal approval before making changes to local voting laws.

The high court — in a 5-4 vote — declared unconstitutional a section of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act that determines which states and localities must get Washington’s approval for proposed elections.

Clyde Township, in West Michigan’s Allegan County, and Buena Vista Township in Saginaw County on the other side of the state needed pre-clearance from the Justice Department. The advance approval requirement had been used mainly in Southern states, giving federal officials a tool against efforts to keep blacks from voting.

The provision required governments that were covered to demonstrate their proposed changes would not discriminate.

“This does not mean there will be any other major changes” in voting laws, Michigan Elections Director Chris Thomas said of Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling. “The Voting Rights Act still is in effect and says you cannot discriminate.”

The requirement applied to Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. In addition to Clyde and Buena Vista townships, it also covers certain counties in California, Florida, New York, North Carolina and South Dakota.

Coverage has been triggered by past discrimination not only against blacks, but also against American Indians, Asian-Americans, Alaska Natives and Hispanics.

“Let’s be clear, the Supreme Court today struck down a specific provision of the Voting Rights Act, but they did not strike down the principle behind it — that all citizens must have equal opportunity to exercise their right to vote,” Michigan Department of Civil Rights spokeswoman Vicki Levengood said in a statement.

“The court invalidated the part of the law that subjected certain jurisdictions to a higher level of scrutiny based on data and findings that were 50 years old. The court did not find anything wrong with the Voting Rights Act’s enforcement provisions themselves, only with Congress’ failure to ensure that any decision to subject some states or counties to a higher burden than others was based on recent, and not only historical, problems,” Levengood said.

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