Posted on September 24, 2010

Feds Allow Sandy Springs out of Voting Rights Act

April Hunt, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 23, 2010

Sandy Springs has become the first Georgia city to bail out of the Voting Rights Act’s federal oversight of its elections.

Now, given the relative cost of the city’s legal challenge and what it expects to save on paperwork and running its own elections, more cities in the state and across the South may follow suit.

“The fact is, Section 5 is time consuming, expensive and a regulatory nightmare,” said Doug Chalmers, a Johns Creek attorney who helped Sandy Springs request a U.S. Justice Department exemption from that section of the act. “I would expect a number of jurisdictions wanting to bail out of that.”

No other Georgia cities have made that move.


Congress passed the act in 1965 to stamp out illegal efforts to deny minorities access to the ballot box. It applies to all or part of 16 states, including Georgia.

In 2006, Congress renewed the act for 25 years.

Then in 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that jurisdictions could seek relief from the act’s Section 5, which requires them to gain federal clearance to change any election procedure, including small items such as moving polling sites.

It was that pre-clearance issue that tripped up Sandy Springs last year. {snip}


In agreeing to grant the exemption late Wednesday, the department noted there were no allegations of anyone being prohibited from voting in Sandy Springs in the past decade. That includes when it was unincorporated Fulton County.


The agreement also requires a citizen advisory committee to provide oversight of all elections to avoid any pitfalls.


The exemption surprised one elections expert. Emory University law professor Michael Kang had expected the Obama administration to be more aggressive on voting rights.

But, as with a recent Justice Department approval of Georgia’s voter verification law, granting the approval may just reflect a more conservative political climate and Supreme Court, Kang said.


The department also granted an exemption to Kings Mountain, N.C., according to its official statement. The exemptions take effect immediately.