SAN FRANCISCO -- Three California counties — Monterey, Yuba and Kings — will no longer have to seek federal approval to make changes in their election rules as a result of Tuesday's Supreme Court decision striking down a key portion of the Voting Rights Act.
A history of voting discrimination against Latinos and Asians had made the counties subject to the federal requirements. As result of the voting law, attempts to change from district to at-large elections have been stopped, and polling consolidations have been delayed, civil rights lawyers said.
The high court decided 5-4 to strike down a provision of the voting law that contained a formula used to determine which state and local governments must seek prior approval for election changes.
The ruling permits Congress to adopt a new formula, but in the meantime none of the covered local governments or states with a history of discrimination will have to seek federal approval before changing election procedures.
Some experts found fault with the court's decision.
"This isn't just activist, this is radical — taking from Congress the role of fact-finding in determining the level of racism in society," said Robert Rubin, a San Francisco-based civil rights lawyer who specializes in the Voting Rights Act.
The court's action will prevent voters from stopping discriminatory election changes before they happen, he said. Voters can still sue over violations after they have occurred, though.
Rubin said the voting law stopped a referendum drive in 2002 that would have changed district elections to at-large voting for a school board in Monterey County. The law also temporarily blocked the consolidation of polling places in Monterey during the 2003 gubernatorial recall election.
California has a state voting rights act that gives voters to right to sue over discriminatory election practices. That law was not affected by the Supreme Court's decision.
Joanna Cuevas Ingram, a voting rights fellow with the San Francisco-based Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, said the group regularly receives complaints from voters about discrimination, including reports that Latinos have been forced to provide identification before voting.