What Does H.R. 3112 Provide?

By Staff

Vol. 4, No. 1, 1981, p. 9

The House bill HR 3112, passed on October 5, extends continuously the special provisions of the Voting Rights Act and changes two others. In essence, the bill amends Section 4 to permit jurisdictions to meet a new standard of exemption from the obligations of preclearing voting changes under Section 5; amends the standard of proof in Section 2 voting discrimination court cases; and extends the bilingual language assistance provisions until 1992.

Preclearance

Currently Section Five requires all local jurisdictions in seven Southern states and parts of others across the country to submit all their voting and election changes to the U.S. Department of Justice or to the federal district court in Washington, D.C. These changes may include annexations, changes in polling places, reapportionment plans, or other election schemes. If a change is found to be racially discriminatory, an objection is issued and the change cannot be executed. H.R. 3112 continues this section.

Bailout

The Voting Rights Act presently provides for a "bailout" which allows jurisdictions to end the requirements of preclearance under Section 5 if they can show in a lawsuit in federal district court in Washington that they have not used a discriminatory test or device during the last several years.

HR 3112 provides a new bailout procedure in Section 4 which is less stringent than the current bailout. The new standard would not go into effect until August 6, 1984. Thereafter, a jurisdiction would have to show for itself and for all governmental units within its territory that for the preceding ten years it has a record of no voting discrimination and has taken steps to increase minority political participation and to remove obstacles to fair representation for minorities.

Some of the standards set up to determine if the jurisdiction has a clean record on voting discrimination include existence of a test or device used for the purpose or effect of racial discrimination, a court judgment of voting discrimination, the assignment of federal examiners for the area, compliance with Section 5, and the absence of objections rendered by the Attorney General under Section 5.

The standards set up to determine if a jurisdiction has eliminated voting practices and barriers to minority voters include a showing that voting procedures and methods are nondiscriminatory, the absence of intimidation and harrassment of voters, and local efforts to expand registration through the appointment of deputy registrars, offering evening or weekend registration, or providing postcard registration. The appointment of minorities as registrars, poll workers and others involved in running elections would also be a sign of an affirmative effort to expand minority citizens' voting rights.

Under current law if an entire state is covered by Section 4 and 5 its counties and cities may not bailout independently. The new bailout permits counties within fully covered states an opportunity to bailout if they can meet the new standards of Section 4. The House bill continues current law requiring bailout suits to be brought in the federal district court of the District of Columbia. The bill also permits any person to participate in the lawsuit if their voting rights might be endangered if the state or county bailed out.

Bilingual Ballots

The provisions for the bilingual assistance in voting do not expire until 1985. However, the bill extends for an additional seven years the life of this section.

Discriminatory Results

The House bill amends Section 2 of the Act to prohibit any voting qualification, standard or practice carried out "in a manner which results in a denial or abridgement" of the right to vote of minorities. Section 2 also adds the following sentence: "The fact that members of a minority group have not been elected in numbers equal to the group's proportion of the population shall not, in and of itself, constitute a violation of this section."

No Assistance to Voters in Booth

The only amendment adopted in the floor debate was proposed by Rep. Millicent Fenwick of New Jersey. The amendment adds the following section to the Act: "Nothing in this Act shall be construed in such a way as to permit voting assistance to be given within the voting booth, unless the voter is blind or physically incapacitated."

Summary of Changes

While the effects of the Fenwick amendment remain foreboding but unclear for minority voters, the changes in Section 4 will probably permit approximately 25 percent of the counties in the Deep South to ball out from Section 5. Staff members of the House Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional rights predict that most of these counties will be in rural areas of Southern states where few blacks reside. The changes in Section 2 are aimed at permitting courts to hold unlawful practices and electoral schemes that result in discrimination. Under the Supreme Court decision handed down in the Bolden case, the courts presently interpret Section 2 to require a showing of both discriminatory purpose and effect.