Alaska Sues U.S. Challenging Voting Rights Law Oversight

Alaska sued the U.S. claiming the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional because it creates “significant, ongoing administrative burdens” and isn’t warranted based on the state’s voting rights history.

Alaska said the law’s preclearance requirement creates uncertainty and delay and “places Alaska’s elections at the mercy of Department of Justice attorneys,” according to a complaint filed today in federal court in Washington. The law intrudes on the state’s sovereignty without evidence Alaska discriminates against minority voters, the complaint alleges.

“Section 5’s preclearance requirement denies Alaska the flexibility and autonomy necessary to run its elections in a manner that best accounts for local conditions and circumstances,” the state said in the lawsuit.

Alaska is among at least six states or jurisdictions challenging continued enforcement of the 1965 law meant to prevent voting discrimination based on race or color. Alaska became one of 16 states or jurisdictions covered by the law when it was extended in 1975 to include language minorities.

The U.S. Supreme Court may decide in October whether to hear a challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act brought by Shelby County, Alabama.

Native Population

Alaska was a covered jurisdiction based on the Alaska Native population of the state and the fact that voting materials used in 1972 were only in English. The state has a 104,871 American Indians and Alaska Natives, according to the 2010 Census.

Alaska says Congress lacked sufficient evidence of voting discrimination when it decided to keep Alaska within the law’s jurisdiction in 2006. At least 20 distinct Alaskan native languages are spoken in the state, according research cited in the complaint.

“The record before Congress showed that the Department of Justice had objected to only one of Alaska’s preclearance submissions in more than 30 years,” the state said in its complaint.

Charles Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The case is Alaska v. Holder, 12-cv-01376, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

To contact the reporter on this story: Tom Schoenberg in Washington at tschoenberg@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net.

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