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New Hampshire to get a voter 'bailout' from feds

New Hampshire Sunday News

March 02. 2013 10:57PM
New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner 

New Hampshire deserves a "bailout" from federal oversight under the Voting Rights Act, a three-judge panel in Washington D.C. has ruled.

"Finally, we're done with this," Secretary of State William Gardner said Saturday night.

The court approved the bailout on March 1, one day after the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a case challenging the constitutionality of that very section of the Voting Rights Act.

Section 5 of the VRA requires jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to get all changes to their election laws "pre-cleared" by the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court in D.C.

New Hampshire found itself under that requirement in the 1960s, in part because the state had a literacy test on the books back then. Ten communities were singled out because of supposedly low voter registration and turnout.

Gardner said that never should have happened. An exhaustive investigation by a former assistant attorney general proved that six of the 10 communities did not even have a single minority resident back then.

And Census records showed that actual voter registration and turnout were much higher than the 50 percent threshold that triggered the Section 5 restrictions.

"Forty-eight years ago, eight New Hampshire towns and two unincorporated places were incorrectly and unfairly subjected to the federal Voting Rights Act for discrimination," Gardner said.

"In the process of righting the wrongs, the action the federal government took here in New Hampshire wronged the rights of those places where there was no proven discrimination."

In its March 1 ruling, the court noted that "a significant" percentage of the voting-age population in the covered towns participate in elections. And it pointed out residents here can register to vote on Election Day in all elections.

The court also said New Hampshire was "unusual" among the states subject to the VRA, since it likely would have been eligible for bailout under the original rules of the law.

"It likely would have been successfully able to demonstrate that the covered towns had no known history of intentional racial discrimination in voting at the time of coverage or since," the court ruled.

The court also rejected a last-minute effort to intervene in the case by the Center for Individual Rights in D.C., filed on behalf of Woodsville resident Peter Heilemann.

Heilemann, who is Republican town chairman for Haverhill, previously told the Sunday News he was "made aware" that provisions of the Voting Rights Act were "very old and probably no longer valid."

He said he agreed to let the Center for Individual Rights file the motion to intervene in the bailout case in his name, even though he seemed unfamiliar with the exact nature of the court action.

But the court found that Heilemann had "failed to establish that the bailout from the Section 5 pre-clearance procedures would result in any injury to his interests." It ruled that he was not an "aggrieved" party and thus had no standing to intervene.

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