- The Washington Times - Monday, June 20, 2011

The U.S. Department of Justice has granted Manassas Park its request to be excused from a section of the Voting Rights Act that requires the city to seek federal approval for even the smallest changes to voting laws or procedures.

Because racism and discrimination are part of their histories under the Voting Rights Act, Virginia and all or parts of 15 other states must get Justice Department approval — called pre-clearance — any time there is a change to voting procedure. While pre-clearance extends to counties, cities and smaller government units, they are able to apply for an exemption, or bailout, from the special supervision.

After Manassas Park officials applied for bailout in April, they were required to supply evidence to the DOJ that the city had a history of complying with the Voting Rights Act. Based on its investigation, the DOJ concluded the city satisfies the requirements, Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez said.

“In this case, the department carefully evaluated the information provided by the city and conducted its own investigation, which has satisfied us that the city is eligible for a bailout,” Mr. Perez said.

The bailout must still be approved by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. If it grants approval, the court can still reverse the decision within a 10-year period if it finds the city in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

In 1997, Fairfax City became the first of 16 Virginia jurisdictions to be granted a bailout. Prince William County, Bedford County and the city of Bedford are still awaiting approval.

Localities apply for bailout to save the thousands of dollars and hours it can cost annually to operate under pre-clearance. Under pre-clearance, officials must request permission for changes like relocating a polling place to something more minor, like closing a voting registration office for a day.

Some years localities submit one or two requests, while other years they may submit a dozen or more.

To be granted bailout, they have to show the DOJ a history of full compliance with the Voting Rights Act — things such as making timely submissions of election changes; never having been sued for violating voting rights on account of race, color or minority status; making it easier to register to vote, and showing a record of minority participation in the voting process.

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