Preclearing Michigan and Florida

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Reader Bruce Adelson writes:

I am a former Senior Attorney (career, not a political appointee) with DOJ's
Voting Section. I am now in private practice. I am unaffiliated with any
political campaign.

In response to the issue about whether DOJ must "preclear" Michigan and
Florida's proposed do-over primary or caucus, the answer is yes. There is no
question about this.

Portions of Florida and Michigan are "covered" by Section 5 of the Voting
Rights Act. This coverage means that "changes affecting voting" in these
covered parts of the two states must be precleared or approved by DOJ or the
federal trial court in Washington, D.C. before they take effect. Failure to
preclear these changes makes them illegal under federal law.

By way of background, in 2004, when the Michigan Democratic Party proposed
Internet voting for its presidential primary, this was a "change affecting
voting" and had to be precleared. No political party in Michigan had
previously conducted an election over the Internet so the proposed 2004
Internet voting was a voting change.

I was the DOJ attorney who discussed this issue with the Michigan Democratic
Party, reviewed the party's submission to DOJ, and recommended preclearance.
DOJ approved the change and the state party's Internet voting in the 2004
primary election proceeded.

The do-over elections being discussed for Michigan and Florida would
similarly be "changes affecting voting" since they would be new elections
held on previously unscheduled election dates. Under Section 5 of the Voting
Rights Act, these changes must be precleared by DOJ or the federal trial
court in Washington, D.C.

By law, DOJ has 60 days to approve, reject or request more information about
any changes affecting voting after DOJ receives a request to preclear the
change. You are correct that the federal court in DC would take much longer.

Sounds fairly clear to me.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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