WASHINGTON — The Justice Department announced today that it filed a lawsuit against the city of Springfield, Mass., alleging violations of the rights of Hispanic and Spanish-speaking voters under two key provisions of the Voting Rights Act.
“The right to vote is a fundamental guarantee for all American citizens,” said Wan J. Kim, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “In light of the serious problems faced by minority language citizen voters in Springfield, we hope that city officials and the Justice Department can reach an agreement quickly to implement remedial measures in time for the 2006 federal elections.”
The Voting Rights Act requires that certain jurisdictions with a substantial minority-language voter population provide all voting materials and assistance in the minority language as well as in English. The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, charges that the city failed to provide Spanish-language assistance at the polls to the majority of its Spanish-speaking voters in recent elections. The complaint also charges that these minority language citizen voters have faced hostile treatment at the polls because of their limited ability to speak English, and that in some cases, they have left the polls without casting a ballot due to the absence of bilingual assistance.
The Voting Rights Act also assures voters who need assistance in voting, such as those unable to see or read the ballot, the right to receive that assistance from a person of their choice, other than the voter’s employer or union representative. The complaint charges that the city prevented Spanish-speaking voters from receiving assistance from the persons of their choice, even in cases where bilingual assistance was otherwise unavailable.
The Civil Rights Division works to ensure compliance with all of the provisions of the Voting Rights Act with respect to all citizens of all racial groups in all areas of the United States. Since 2002, the Civil Rights Division has filed three-fourths of all cases to protect the right of voters needing assistance in the history of the Act, and 60 percent of all minority language cases than in the entire previous history of the Voting Rights Act. As a result of this work and other lawsuits brought, since 2002, the Department has brought a majority of all cases it ever has filed under the substantive provisions of the Voting Rights Act to protect Hispanic and Asian voters, and the first cases ever filed to protect the voting rights of Filipino and Vietnamese voters. During this time period, the Division has filed successful Voting Rights Act lawsuits across the country, with cases in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington.
To file complaints about discriminatory voting practices, including acts of harassment or intimidation, voters may call the Voting Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division at 1-800-253-3931. More information about the Voting Rights Act and other federal voting laws is available on the Department of Justice website at http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/voting/index.htm.