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WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration and civil rights groups are defending a key section of the landmark voting rights law at the Supreme Court by pointing reformed state, county and local governments to an escape hatch from the law's strictest provision.

The Voting Rights Act requires places with a history of voting discrimination to get approval from Washington before making any election-related changes.

But the law allows governments that have changed their ways to get out from under this humbling need to get permission through a "bailout provision." Nearly 250 counties and local jurisdictions have done so, and thousands more could be eligible.

The viability of the bailout option could play an outsized role in the Supreme Court's consideration of a challenge to the law's prior approval provision, with arguments Wednesday.