DECIDING NOT TO DECIDE -- FOR NOW.

Our Voting Rights series continued: Stephen Ansolabehere, a government professor at Harvard University, and Nathaniel Persily, a professor of law and political science at Columbia University, argue that more electoral data is necessary to understand where voting discrimination is happening and to what extent.

The Supreme Court dodged a bullet yesterday by deciding not to decide the constitutionality of Section 5 of the newly reauthorized Voting Rights Act. The decision, which makes small jurisdictions eligible for bailout from the act, will have little practical impact. Of the 12,000 jurisdictions covered by the act before this decision, only a small number of municipalities, all in Virginia, have bailed out since 1982. The expansion of the bailout option to smaller municipalities is unlikely to lead to a flood of requests, given that very few eligible jurisdictions who always could have bailed out have decided to take that step.

The rarity of bailout is somewhat of a mystery. Perhaps the criteria for bailout are too difficult or politicians are loath to make their cause célèbre the escape from a civil-rights law. Or perhaps, as many of the covered jurisdictions have indicated, they prefer to be covered because it gives them a DOJ stamp of approval for their voting laws that they can wave in the face of those who otherwise might sue them. Whatever the reasons for the rarity of bailout, one must suspect that those reasons will still be present for the jurisdictions newly eligible for escaping coverage under the act.

More after the jump.

--Stephen Ansolabehere and Nathaniel Persily

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