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High court ruling removes La. from preclearance

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MELINDA DESLATTE
Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Changes to Louisiana's voting laws, election districts and precinct locations no longer need federal approval before taking effect, under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling Tuesday that stopped enforcement of one piece of the Voting Rights Act.

Secretary of State Tom Schedler said the 5-4 decision means Louisiana doesn't have to follow a "preclearance" requirement mandated in the 1965 law, unless Congress redesigns the formula that determines which states and municipalities must submit election changes.

The Supreme Court didn't strike down the pre-clearance rule itself. The justices invalidated the formula that has required mainly Southern states to get Washington's approval for voting laws, saying it does not account for racial progress and societal changes across the country.

Gov. Bobby Jindal applauded the high court's ruling.

"The court recognized that states can fairly design our own maps and run our own elections without the federal government. The ruling says that all states and all people should be treated equally," Jindal, a Republican, said in a statement.

Louisiana's senior U.S. senator, Democrat Mary Landrieu, disagreed with Jindal's assessment and said she was unhappy with the court decision. "Federal protections embodied in the Voting Rights Act remain relevant today," Landrieu said in a statement.

Louisiana was one of nine states, along with local areas in six other states, whose election maps and voting laws required review from the U.S. Justice Department before they could take effect, to ensure the laws were free of discrimination in places with a history of inequitable treatment of blacks or other minorities.

Implications of the court ruling likely won't be immediately noticeable in Louisiana.

State lawmakers already have redrawn U.S. House, legislative and education board districts after the latest census, and those maps received clearance from the Justice Department in 2011. Those district maps were expected to govern state elections for a decade, until the next federal census data is released.

Schedler said only a handful of municipalities and local school boards were awaiting approval for their elected district redesigns and now won't need Justice Department clearance.

But the secretary of state's office will feel the impact of the change quickly. The office won't have to get federal preclearance of routine changes to voting precincts and registration forms or other minor election adjustments.

"Changing a precinct from one side of the street to the other, we had to get preclearance," Schedler said.

Schedler, a Republican, supported removal of the preclearance requirement, saying Louisiana has made significant strides since the Voting Rights Act was passed.

"I've been saying for some time that I thought it was time for the Supreme Court to review it because the data was so stale, 50 years old. Things have changed," Schedler said. "Louisiana truly has changed from 1965, and I'm fully committed to ensuring that trend continues."

The leader of the Louisiana Democratic Party, state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, issued a statement saying she was disappointed with the court ruling.

"We vow to continue the fight to ensure every citizen - regardless of race, economic background, age and gender - has equal access to the ballot box. There is nothing more American than the act of voting, and we must remember how hard those who went before us fought to make sure all Americans can exercise this right."

Schedler said while Congress can reconsider the issue of who should be subject to preclearance, he's not necessarily expecting Congress to come up with a new formula soon, if at all, because of Washington gridlock.

"Does Congress revisit it, and if they do, are they ever able in that mess up there to agree on what it should be?" Schedler said.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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