Alaska sues federal government over Voting Rights Act

Yesterday, state attorneys filed a challenge to the federal Voting Rights Act in district court in Washington, DC.

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

Assistant state Attorney General Margaret Payton-Walsh says Alaska is only challenging Section Five of the Voting Rights Act.

“We were very concerned that we were not going to 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,” Payton-Walsh said. “We don’t believe the preclearance requirement of Section Five is necessary in Alaska. We don’t believe it’s constitutionally justified. 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 weren’t going to be able send out advance absentee ballots.”

The June lawsuit by the Native groups 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.

“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 station across the street,” Payton-Walsh said.

The suit also challenges the formula that requires certain states to comply with Section Five. Only eleven states must meet full Section Five requirements, though the Voting Rights Act applies to all states.

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