The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down a provision of the Voting Rights Act that requires states with a history of voter disenfranchisement– including Alaska –get federal approval before changing election laws.
The section orders states to seek federal preclearance for its election laws and legislative districts. The high court deemed it unconstitutional and is leaving it to Congress to write new guidelines.
Elections Division Director Gail Fenumiai says state attorneys are still studying the dense opinion, but it’s clear the Supreme Court decision vindicates Alaska’s position that it should not be covered under the provision. Fenumiai says a literacy test that was once required to vote in Alaska was abolished about 50 years ago.
“Times have changed, practices have changed. The state has a good track record of not trying to disenfranchise voters and I truly believe that our mission is to ensure that every registered voter in the state of Alaska has equal access to a ballot,” Fenumiai says.
The court ruled five to four along ideological lines. It said Congress now has the opportunity to rewrite section four with new data and modern guidelines. The Voting Rights Act was last reauthorized in 2006.
“The decision will not affect the division’s commitment to our language assistance efforts statewide, or the division’s commitment that all Alaska voters have the right to express their opinion at the ballot box,” Fenumiai says.
The next statewide election in Alaska is a primary in August 2014.
The Alaska Redistricting Board had said it was waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court decision before beginning the process of redrawing the state’s legislative boundaries, which is required by the Alaska Supreme Court. But a state court judge two weeks ago said the board needed to get on with the process, and it is now considering 11 different maps. Fenumiai says she hopes the board will not delay.