Off Beat: Feds show mercy on Merced
Maybe they were dancing in the streets of Merced. There was plenty to dance about.
But in Yuba County, there may have just been puzzlement.
The powers-that-be in Merced County, and all of its 84 political subdivisions, were free from the "preclearance" requirement of the federal Voting Rights Act.
The Justice Department even issued a press release last Monday announcing that, subject to a final ruling, Merced County no longer had to jump through those very strange federal hoops to prove it isn't discriminating against anybody.
Under the Voting Rights Act, a "covered jurisdiction" has to seek preclearance from the feds before it can do anything that might change voting qualifications, standards or practices.
The preclearance requirement usually rears its bureaucrat head every 10 years when boundary lines are redrawn based on census numbers.
Merced County filed a legal petition to "bail out" of preclearance by showing it had a 10-year record of nondiscrimination in voting-related actions. The attorney general also has to sign off on the bail out.
Merced County filed the action in March 2011.
Merced was one of four California counties that had to preclear with the feds. The others are Kings, Monterey and, yes, Yuba. Most of the others across the country were in the South.
The California counties were included primarily because they had Air Force bases back in the 1970s, which tended to skew their rolls of eligible voters. It's complicated.
Yuba County, off and on, has tried to get out from under preclearance, with no luck.
The Merced Sun Star was positively giddy about Merced County's effort.
"Merced County has earned the chance to be free of intrusive political oversight," the paper reported.
The county counsel, James Fincher, told the paper that the county spent about $1 million in legal costs and fees related to the Voting Rights Act.
"Yes, we're certainly pleased that the DOJ agreed with us that Merced County doesn't belong under the act," Fincher told the paper.
"Merced County has a right to be very proud of itself," Northern Virginia-based attorney J. Gerald Hebert, who represented the county, told the Merced paper. "We've been working on this for quite some time."
So when will Yuba County step up to the plate and give it one more try to get out from under this rather onerous — and pointless — federal mandate?