In a letter faxed this morning to the Alexandria city attorney, the ACLU of Virginia has warned the City that proceeding with a special election to fill a vacancy on the school board without first obtaining approval from the U.S. Department of Justice could result in delaying the election or possibly having the election overturned.
The controversy over the special school board election began when school board member Dan Goldhaber resigned recently, requiring the city to hold a special election to fill his position. The problem faced by city officials was that Alexandria has redrawn its voting precinct boundaries to conform to the new House, Senate and congressional districts, but did not meet the state deadline for redrawing its school district lines. As a result, the precinct lines and the existing school district lines do not match up. Under a court-ordered election plan that attempted to resolve the problem, some voters who live within the existing school district boundaries will not be allowed to vote.
Had Alexandria completed its school board redistricting on schedule, the interim elections would most likely be held using the new election plan.
"Two things are absolutely clear at this point. First, Alexandria made a mess of this election by not redrawing its school board districts on the time schedule required by state law. Second, before the interim school board election takes place, it must be precleared by the U.S. Department of Justice in accordance with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act."
"If the city officials move quickly, they could possibly get the plan approved without delaying the election," added Willis. "Someone, though, needs to convince them to submit the plan to the Department of Justice right away. Based on the information we have at this time, if the Justice Department approves the plan, we do not expect to challenge the election."
In her letter to City Attorney Ignacio Pessoa, ACLU of Virginia legal director Rebecca Glenberg writes: "…the City's failure to preclear could be the basis for a Section 5 lawsuit. If a judge were to determine that preclearance is required, he would have little choice but to enjoin the special election…Even worse, if the lawsuit were filed after the election, the election could be overturned."
Glenberg's letter to Pessoa can be found at http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/20020207-Alexandria-Voting-2.pdf.

Contacts: Kent Willis, Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia Rebecca K.Glenberg, Legal Director, ACLU of Virginia 804-644-8022

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