WASHINGTON – The Justice Department today reached a settlement agreement with the City of Philadelphia related to allegations that the city violated the Voting Rights Act, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), and the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). In addition to the settlement, the Department filed an amended complaint, adding claims to those filed in the original Oct. 13, 2006 suit, which alleged that the city had violated the rights of Hispanic and other voters under two key provisions of the Voting Rights Act. The settlement agreement resolves the government’s complaint.
“Federal law sets basic standards of fairness in voting for all citizens in the United States. The City of Philadelphia has an obligation to ensure that its polling places are free from discrimination, that effective assistance, in Spanish where necessary, is available to those who need it, and that citizens with disabilities are able to cast a private, independent ballot,” said Wan J. Kim, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The city also has an obligation to maintain accurate voter registration lists. The Department will vigorously enforce the requirements of federal law.”
The agreement provides multiple layers of protections for Philadelphia voters, many of which the city has been implementing even as negotiations have proceeded. It provides for additional Spanish speaking poll officials to meet the changing population of the city, as well as an assurance that voters who need assistance in voting can receive it. Election workers will receive training and sign commitments to avoid discriminatory or other illegal practices. The agreement also ensures that accessible voting machines will be operating and available to disabled voters, and that voter lists be accurate and consistent with federal law.
The Voting Rights Act prohibits discrimination in voting based on race, color or membership in a language minority group. It also requires the city to provide all voting materials and information in Spanish as well as in English, and to ensure voters who need assistance in voting, such as those unable to see or read the ballot, have the right to receive that assistance from a person of their choice, other than the voter’s employer or union representative. The amended complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, charges that the city failed to comply with these requirements.
The Help America Vote Act requires that the city have at least one operational voting machine that is accessible to voters with disabilities, and that the city post information on voters’ rights and obligations in each polling place. In addition, under the National Voter Registration Act, the city must maintain reasonably accurate registration lists by removing registrants who have died or who are no longer eligible because they have moved to another county or state. The amended complaint also charges that the city did not meet these basic requirements for the administration of elections.
The Civil Rights Division works to ensure compliance with all of the provisions of the Voting Rights Act with respect to all citizens in all areas of the United States. Since 2002, the Civil Rights Division has filed over three-fourths of all cases to protect the right of voters needing assistance in the history of the Act, and approximately 60 percent of all minority language cases in the entire previous history of the Voting Rights Act. The Division also has filed important cases under the Help America Vote Act and the National Voter Registration Act, including 2006 cases in Alabama, Arizona, Indiana, Maine, New Jersey and New York.
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 Web site at http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/voting/index.htm.