WASHINGTON - The Justice Department announced today the settlement of a lawsuit against Salem County and the borough of Penns Grove, N.J., alleging violations of the rights of Puerto Rican voters under the Voting Rights Act. The settlement agreement requires the county and borough to ensure that elections are equally open to Latino voters, that Spanish language assistance and materials be available at the polls, and that Spanish-speaking voters be allowed to select the assistor of their choice. One of the concerns that led to the Civil Rights Division’s investigation was that the borough and county were violating the rights of voters who had been educated in Spanish in American-flag schools in Puerto Rico.
The settlement agreement was filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey contemporaneously with the complaint and an accompanying proposed order allowing federal observers to monitor election day activities in its polling place. The order still must be approved by the court.
"The complaint, which includes allegations of discriminatory enforcement of voter ID laws, is filed to protect Hispanic voters," said Grace Chung Becker, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "The Division is committed to vigorously enforcing federal civil rights laws during this important election year and commends the county and borough for promptly and constructively resolving the matter."
"The right to vote is a fundamental guarantee for all American citizens," said Christopher J. Christie, U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey. "We are pleased that the county and borough have agreed to resolve this complaint."
The complaint, brought under Sections 2, 4e, and 208 of the Voting Rights Act, alleged that in Penns Grove, Latino voters were subject to racial comments, hostility, and a range of disparate treatment. The complaint alleges that Latino voters were asked disproportionately for identification and were turned away from the polls. It also alleges that Spanish-speaking voters were not provided with Spanish-language election materials or adequate numbers of bilingual poll workers and Spanish-speaking voters were denied the use of an assistor of their choice.
Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act prohibits discrimination in the voting process. This is the third Section 2 lawsuit filed by the Division this year. Section 4e of the Voting Rights Act mandates Spanish language materials and assistance to citizens of Puerto Rican descent who were educated in Spanish in American flag schools. This case marks the fifth lawsuit brought by the Division on behalf of Puerto Rican voters under Section 4e in its history and the third lawsuit brought since 2003. Section 208 of the Act gives voters who need assistance in voting because of a disability or an inability to read the English language ballot the right to receive that assistance from a person of their choice, other than the voter’s employer or union representative. This is the tenth lawsuit under Section 208 in the Division’s history, nine of which were filed since 2001. This Administration has filed successful Voting Rights Act lawsuits across the country–including Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Washington, and has filed the first cases ever in its history on behalf of Filipino, Korean, Haitian, and Vietnamese American voters.
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 www.usdoj.gov/crt/voting/index.htm.