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DOJ ruling could come today

DEMOPOLIS &045;&045; The U.S. Justice Department is expected to rule on the city’s redistricting plan today, or to request more information on the city’s annexations and redistricting plan under review.

The city originally submitted its redistricting "Plan G" to Justice in April, and the Civil Rights Section, under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act , "preclears" any changes to voting procedures or processes.

City Attorney Rick Manley, who handles the redistricting issue on the city’s behalf, said Monday he remained hopeful Justice would approve the city’s plan.

Under Section 5, one of the original provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, any change with respect to voting in a covered jurisdiction cannot be legally enforced unless and until the jurisdiction obtains preclearance, which can come from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia or the United States Attorney General, according to Justice.

Anna Martinez, a staff member for the department’s Voting Section, declined to comment on city’s redistricting plan, confirming only today’s deadline. She referred all other questions to the department’s media affairs representatives who failed to return phone calls on Monday.

According to the departments web site, Section 5 preclearance will be denied if the proposed change has not been shown to be free of the purpose and effect of discriminating on the basis of race or membership in a language minority group. While provisions exist for the courts to decide preclearance questions, most are submitted administratively to Justice, and the department said it has received between 14,000 and 22,000 voting changes per year for the past decade.

According to the web site, the Attorney General has objected to about one percent of the voting changes that have been submitted.

Eight states in their entirety require preclearance: Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virigina (which has had three jurisdictions "bail out" or be removed from the requirement).

In addition, certain counties in California, Florida, New York, North Carolina and South Dakota require preclearance, as does certain townships in Michigan and New Hampshire.

If Justice fails to preclear Demopolis’ plan, it’s is unclear what status the August elections will take.

Ken Smith, chief counsel of the Alabama League of Municipalities, said there was little to do but research the particulars of the city’s situation.

Smith said it was possible that Justice could seek an injunction, which could halt the elections.

One possibility is that the city moves forward with the election based on the current plan as it is submitted to Justice.

The city council approved the measure on March 18, 2004 as Resolution 2004-13. As such is it is the current city ordinance governing elections.

If the plan does not receive preclearance, then it cannot be implemented, Smith said.