GATE CITY — The Supreme Court’s recent decision to strike down a portion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is being felt in Southwest Virginia as officials in Scott County are weighing their options on whether to proceed with a bailout request from the law’s provisions.
Sally Kegley, county attorney for Scott County, recommended earlier this week that the Board of Supervisors let the Scott County Voter Registrar and Electoral Board decide if they still wish to go forward with the bailout, which is covered under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
Scott County decided earlier this year to wait on the Supreme Court’s ruling on the law in late June before making a decision on whether or not to proceed with the request.
Although the lawsuit before the Supreme Court challenged Section 5 of the act, which requires states and counties with a history of civil rights problems to have any changes to their voting procedures cleared by the Department of Justice, the justices struck down Section 4, which pertains to the formula used to determine which localities must submit to pre-clearance.
As a result of that ruling, Scott County must still have any changes it makes to its voting ordinance approved by the DOJ.
If the county pursues, and is ultimately granted, the bailout, changes could instead be made at the local level.
Scott County Voter Registrar Mike Edwards said he planned to discuss the matter with the Scott County Electoral Board at its next meeting before deciding what to do.
“Right now I think we’re going to take a wait-and-see approach to it,” Edwards said. “Right now if we want to make any changes, we’ll go about it like we always do, by getting it approved first.”
Edwards said the Electoral Board will likely convene for its next meeting in August at the earliest.
Kegley’s recommendation involved having Edwards and the Electoral Board discuss the issue with the law firm they would use to obtain the bailout.
If Edwards and the board choose to go forward with the process, that decision would need to be approved by the BOS.
Scott County is seeking the bailout to streamline the process of changing its voting ordinance.
Edwards said the changes being sought by the county only dealt with administration of elections and would not impact Scott County voters.
The change behind the bailout request involves the counting of absentee ballots, Edwards said. For November elections, absentee ballots are counted at the central absentee precinct in Gate City, but during all other elections, absentee ballots must be taken to their correct voting precinct to be counted there.
Edwards said he would like to make the procedure used for November elections the only one election workers have to follow.
Scott County is able to pursue the bailout from Section 5 because it has avoided any civil rights-related voting complaints for the past 10 years.