“A New Proposal to Address Local Voting Discrimination”

Cody Gray has posted this draft on SSRN (University of Richmond Law Review).  Here is the abstract:

Many scholars writing about the Voting Rights Act today are grappling with doctrinal questions related to the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder. Far fewer are examining the structural apparatus that remains for enforcing federal voting rights.

This Article subjects that enforcement apparatus to scrutiny. It finds the remaining means to challenge voting impediments in the post-Shelby County world — (1) individual lawsuits by private citizens, (2) impact-litigation by law firms and non-profits, and (3) bureaucratic enforcement by the U.S. Department of Justice — are woefully inadequate. There are two problems. First, the local level is where the majority of discriminatory changes were discovered over the last fifty years, but law firms, non-profits, and the federal government tend to litigate only large, high profile voting disputes. Second, the remaining enforcement regime too closely resembles a “police-patrol” regulatory model. In such a model, an active and centralized principal (DOJ) examines a subset of their agents’ actions (goes on police patrols) in order to detect and remedy violations while simultaneously deterring misconduct. In the post-Shelby County world, this model is flawed: it is inefficient, it misses local voting violations, and it is easily susceptible to partisan manipulation.

This Article argues that a “fire-alarm” regulatory model would better address local voting discrimination. Under the fire-alarm system, in lieu of examining a sample of jurisdictions to detect violations, the principal establishes a system of rules, procedures, or informal practices that enable individual citizens or organized groups to complain about a jurisdiction (sound the “alarm”), charge it with a violation, and seek a remedy in court. This model is more efficient, more expansive, and less susceptible to partisan manipulation.

I outline two proposals that would move the system closer to a fire-alarm model, and in the process, make it easier for litigants of all stripes to address the soft underbelly of our current enforcement apparatus — local voting discrimination.

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