Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

Voting Rights Act Altered; Markey Wins

In Courts, Senate on June 26, 2013 at 10:31 am

Voting Rights Ruling

The Supreme Court, ruling for the plaintiffs in the Shelby County (AL) case on a 5-4 decision, struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) saying that the formula determining VRA jurisdiction is no longer applicable. In 2006, Congress renewed the Voting Rights Act for the succeeding 25 years but did not change the triggering election. Until yesterday, dropping below the turnout pattern dictated in the 1972 presidential election would bring a municipality, county, or state under VRA coverage. Had the court not acted, that triggering mechanism would have stayed in place at least until 2031, or almost 60 years.

The high court majority members made clear they are not striking down the Act itself, only the formula for determining which jurisdictions will come under federal supervision. Doing so eliminates the Department of Justice’s power to pre-clear election laws after a covered jurisdiction enacts statutory changes. Because the formula is now declared unconstitutional, all of the laws previously denied pre-clearance now take effect. This could greatly change matters in several states, and very quickly. In fact, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R), for example, announced that he would immediately begin enforcing the state’s voter identification law that had been previously stayed by the DoJ’s refusal to pre-clear the legislation.

The states that could be most affected by this ruling, even as early as the present election cycle, are the three hearing live redistricting litigation. The trio of states are Florida, North Carolina and Arizona. Depending upon the outcome of the various lawsuits, and yesterday’s ruling that strengthened the plaintiffs hands against their state in all instances, it is possible the congressional and state legislative lines could conceivably be re-drawn before the 2014 election.

Massachusetts

Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA-5), as we’ve been predicting for several weeks, successfully claimed Secretary of State John Kerry’s (D) former Massachusetts Senate seat, but his margin of victory was a bit under what a Democrat normally scores. Markey will soon be sworn into the Senate and serve the balance of the current term. He is eligible to run for a full six-year stint in November of 2014. Entering the Senate after 36 years of service in the House, Markey now becomes the longest-serving Representative ever to be elected to the Senate.

Republican Gabriel Gomez ran well. Leading Markey through the first 40 percent of vote counting, he succumbed when the Boston precincts and heavy Democratic towns in eastern Massachusetts reported their numbers. In the end, Markey won 55-45 percent, pulling away late in the contest.

Over 1.17 million individuals participated yesterday, representing about 27 percent of the total state electorate of 4.34 million voters, which is relatively high for a special election.

Gomez had a strong candidate profile as an investor, businessman, Naval Academy graduate, and Navy SEAL. Right now, it is inconclusive to determine whether the race provides us with any signal for next year. Ideologically, it tells us very little since Gomez did not run as a conservative. Attempting to position himself in the middle of the ideological spectrum in order to attract a larger base of support, the Gomez strategy failed as often happens. Particularly in a lower turnout special election, those most likely to cast ballots are the more politically interested and motivated voters. Therefore, the base Republican voter is less excited about a moderate, or centrist, candidate, while in this case the base Democrats had a bona fide liberal in Markey to support, which proved to be more of a driver for them.

Sen. Mo Cowan (D) has been serving in an interim capacity since Gov. Deval Patrick (D) appointed him, just after Kerry accepted his national position. Cowan will step down as soon as Senator-elect Markey takes the oath of office. Until the New Jersey special election is held in October, the Senate will remain in a partisan division of 54 Democrats and 46 Republicans.

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