Those fights are now clogging the federal courts.
Some conservative groups have argued that "ancient formulas" are being applied today, not to erase discrimination, but to benefit a particular political party. Some liberal activists counter Section 5 and federal oversight are being demonized by many on the right for purely partisan gain, and to divide Americans again over race.
In Shelby, both sides know the nation is watching and know the stakes will ripple widely.
"I'm not saying everything's perfect," Ellis tells CNN. "But I'm saying, very few of the non-covered jurisdictions can give you a success story like I've just given you out here in Shelby County."
"I agree that things have changed in the South and they are better, but they haven't reached the point where we could do away with Section 5 yet," says Jones, senior pastor at New Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in Calera. "It's a lot better but it still lives, discrimination still lives and I'm not willing to trust [voting enforcement] into the hands of people who motives are not pure."
The case is Shelby County v. Holder (12-96).