State Challenges Federal Voting Rights Act

State attorneys filed a challenge to the federal Voting Rights Act in district court in Washington, DC on Tuesday, according to Gail Fenumiai, the state division of elections director.

The suit stems from legal action in June, when some Alaska Native groups sued the division of elections for going forward with election plans before the federal government had given the go-ahead to Alaska’s 2012 redistricting plan.

State assistant attorney general Margaret Payton-Walsh says the state is only suing against Section Five of the Voting Rights Act.

“We were very concerned that we would not be able to hold the primary on time, and because we don't have a permanent redistricting plan and the Board is going to have to try again, we wanted to avoid a repetition of that whole experience in 2014. And we don't believe that the requirement, the preclearance requirement of section five, is necessary in Alaska. We don't believe it is constitutionally justified, and we think that it creates a specific set of problems that led to that sort of crisis moment in June, when we were afraid we would not be able to send out advance absentee ballots,” Payton-Walsh said.

The June lawsuit against the division of elections became moot when the federal Department of Justice approved Alaska's redistricting plan. But Payton-Walsh says the state is taking the arguments it planned to make in that case to court to exempt Alaska from the restrictions of Section Five.

“And that section requires that the states in the jurisdictions that are covered by, it's not every state in the union, but the states that are covered have to go to the federal government in Washington, DC every time they want to make any change in their election laws or procedures and that could be anything from our new redistricting plan down to moving a polling place across the street. So in order to do anything like that related to elections, we have to go to Washington DC and ask the federal government for permission to do that,” Payton-Walsh said.

Payton-Walsh says the state suit also challenges the formula that requires certain states to comply with Section Five. Only 11 states must full Section Five requirements, although the Voting Rights Act applies to all states.

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