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Officials: White House isn't ruling out a new Voting Rights Act formula

Earlier today in First Thoughts, we interpreted President Obama suggesting he was open to a congressional remedy to the Supreme Court's decision on the Voting Rights Act that DID NOT include a new pre-clearance formula for states.

"The good news is that there are other potential remedies, and the most important one is to simply make sure that everybody around the country can vote and that everywhere around the country we're not seeing seven-hour lines -- we're not seeing mechanisms put in place to make it harder for people to vote, but rather we should have mechanisms that make it easier to vote," the president said at his news conference in Senegal.

A senior administration official spoke with NBC News to clarify exactly what the president meant by this. This official emphasizes that Obama has not ruled out asking Congress to update the coverage formula under the Voting Rights Act.

But the official adds that they are looking at a formula that is geographically neutral -- so it passes constitutional muster.  For instance, the White House might suggest that a formula be created that examines minority participation in elections and if a state or local jurisdiction ends up with a consistent but below the national average participation rate, that jurisdiction would find itself coming under Justice Department review. The bottom line: The White House acknowledges that there isn’t a way to agree upon a new map, but instead focus on criteria.

By publicly agreeing that it supports criteria that is geographically neutral, the White House could have an easier time finding Republican support.