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Backgrounder: Texas and Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act


by: Michael Li

Mon Feb 25, 2013 at 06:31 PM CST


(Thanks to Michael Li for this servicey explainer about Section 5 in advance of this week's hearing.   - promoted by Katherine Haenschen)

With the Supreme Court set to take up the constitutionality of section 5 of the Voting Rights Act on Wednesday in one of the most momentous cases this term, here's a look at the history of section 5 in Texas:

  • Texas is one of 8 states currently covered in its entirety by the preclearance provisions in section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.  In addition, another 8 states are partially covered. The other states covered in whole are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina. Virginia also is covered as a state, although a number of its counties and political subdivisions no longer are.

  • Texas was not covered under section 5 until 1975 amendments to the Voting Rights Act, which added provisions to address discrimination against language minority groups. Like Arizona, Texas became covered because Spanish speakers at the time of the November 1972 general election constituted more than 5% of voting age citizens but the state still provided election information only in English.

  • Since becoming a covered jurisdiction, Texas and its political subdivisions have been the subject of 206 preclearance objections from the Justice Department - more than any other covered jurisdiction. Additionally, although Texas elected not to submit its 2011 legislative and congressional redistricting maps to DOJ for preclearance, a three-judge panel denied preclearance to all three of Texas' plans in 2012.

  • Of the objections since Texas became a covered jurisdiction, 73 occurred between 1975-1979, 53 were between 1980-1989, 65 were between 1990-1999, and 15 have been since 2000.  In all, 112 of the objections were lodged by under Republican administrations and 94 during Democratic administrations.

  • Prior to the Obama administration, the Justice Department objected to all three of the state's redistricting plans in the 1981 cycle, the state house and state senate redistricting plans in the 1991 cycle, and the state house plan in the 2001 cycle.  In 1991, DOJ also objected to the City of Dallas' proposed 10-4-1 city council plan.

  • In 2011-2012, in addition to opposing Texas' redistricting plans and Texas' voter ID law (SB 14), the Justice Department objected to redistricting plans for county commissions in Galveston and Nueces counties and to a change in the way the trustees for the Beaumont Independent School District would be elected.

  • If section 5 is upheld, Texas would remain covered by preclearance requirements until 2031, unless at some future juncture it qualifies for bailout under provisions of the Voting Rights Act.  Under current law, to bailout as a state, Texas and all of its political subdivisions would need to have a 'clean record' under both section 5 and section 2 of the Voting Rights Act for a period at least ten years, in addition to meeting other statutory requirements.

  • Political subdivisions, such as counties, also can bailout on their own if they independently meet the bailout tests, though to date none have done so in Texas.  Nationwide, roughly 125 jurisdictions have bailed out since 2009.

  • As a covered jurisdiction, Texas is required to submit all voting related changes either to the Justice Department or to a court in Washington D.C. for approval (preclearance) before they can be put into effect.  This requirement includes changes in the manner of voting, candidacy requirements, abolition of an office, annexations, redistricting plans as well as things like the location of precinct polling places and changes in political parties' delegate selection rules.

This post was updated to add a missing bullet point that disappeared into the ether during reformatting. -- KH

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