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Merced County, one of four California counties in which election practices have been under federal Voting Rights Act scrutiny, has apparently won its years-long battle to escape federal oversight.

Merced has spent at least $1 million on legal fees and other costs of its campaign to persuade the U.S. Department of Justice to release it from VRA oversight and as notified Monday that it had succeeded, the
Merced Sun-Star reports.

The Justice Department decision must be ratified by the federal court for the District of Columbia after a hearing, but county officials expect that to be just a formality.

One provision of the VRA, which grew out of civil rights protests in the South during the 1960s, requires oversight of any county where voter registration is less than half of the potential voting age population. Merced and Yuba, Monterey and Kings counties fell under that cutoff mark.

It's meant that any change in election law or procedure, including the decennial redrawing of legislative and congressional districts, affecting those four counties had to win DOJ clearance. It was a major factor in last year's redistricting process by an independent state commission.

Merced maintained that its low voter registration rate stemmed from a statistical anomaly - a large population of voting age Air Force personnel at Castle Air Force Base who were counted for census purposes but typically registered and voted in their home states.

The other three rural counties with relatively small populations also had large military installations - Beale AFB in Yuba, Lemoore NAS in Kings, and Fort Ford in Monterey - but only Merced aggressively sought release from the VRA. Both Castle and Fort Ord have since been closed.

Updated at 11:56 a.m. to reflect need for judicial ratification.


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