"Over the years we realized that this burden was unfair and unjustified," he said. "We just elected a black member of the board of education, with a 90% white population. We've elected a black mayor over a white incumbent, we've elected black city council members."
Many neighborhoods, he says, are integrated.
The dispute in Calera
Ellis acknowledges a voting dispute in the city of Calera was not handled well by local officials, but chafes at the assumption things are irreparably bad in Shelby County. He says it is especially hard to disprove a negative. He is convinced that no pervasive racial bias currently exists in the county power structure.
"The South has changed, it is not the same it was in 1964," Ellis said. "The whole country has changed. We are a dynamic society, not just in Alabama but everywhere."
Some have called the preclearance requirement a Scarlet Letter or badge of shame Southern states, mostly, must perpetually endure.
Racism, in the minds of many African-Americans and Hispanics in the county, is subtle and deep-rooted -- a "good ol' boy" system, as the Rev. Jones puts it.
He and other civil rights activists point to the 2008 election in Calera, where only one African-American was serving, Ernest Montgomery.
The city, over the objections of the Justice Department under its Section 5 authority, changed the voting boundaries, costing Montgomery his seat. He believes it was an effort to weaken minority voting strength.
"Some sub-developments were added to my district and diluted the African-American district from a 67% district down to about 28%," Montgomery told CNN. "I think of the possibility of what could happen if Section 5 could go away -- that some of the old mindsets would kind of fall back into place."
After the feds intervened, a new election was held and Montgomery got his seat back. He holds it today.
The government points out that some areas have gotten out of Section 5. In recent years, 31 cities and counties in Virginia successfully petitioned to be exempt from the preclearance requirements, though the rest of the state remains under federal oversight. New Hampshire was removed from federal oversight in March.
Shelby County has not made such a request; it opposes Section 5 on its face.
'Serious constitutional questions'
The Justice Department also said the Supreme Court had, in recent years, narrowed the scope of some aspects of the Voting Rights Act.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, who could prove a swing vote in the Alabama dispute, noted in an earlier unrelated case involving Section 5 that "racial discrimination and racially polarized voting are not ancient history."
But it may be Chief Justice John Roberts who is exercising the power to lead the tricky but crucial opinion-writing exercise.
That is because he authored that 2009 high court ruling, suggesting Section 5's days were numbered.
He said the preclearance provision raises "serious constitutional questions," and added it "represents an intrusion into areas of state and local responsibility that is unfamiliar to our federal system."
"Things have changed in the South. Voter turnout and registration rates now approach parity," Roberts said at the time, echoing the views Shelby County now makes in its appeal. "Past success alone ... is not adequate justification to retain the preclearance requirements."
The court for four years avoided the key question of the law's constitutionality.
Civil rights supporters worry the court's five conservative members will strike down this and another pending appeal over affirmative action in public college admissions.
Any dispute about voting slips inevitably into politics and efforts by both Republicans and Democrats to preserve their power bases.
Section 5 lawsuits have been acute in the past two years. They involve challenges to constitutionally mandated boundary changes in state and congressional districts based on the 2010 census; new, stricter voter identification requirements; and reductions in early voting periods.
Those fights are now clogging the federal courts.