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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
CIVIL ACTION NO.: 3:07-cv-00377
GALVESTON COUNTY, TEXAS;
CONSENT DECREE, JUDGMENT, AND ORDER
The United States of America filed this action
pursuant to Section 4(f)(4) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1973b(f)(4),
and Sections 302(a) and 302(b) of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 ("HAVA"), 42 U.S.C.
§§ 15482(a), (b). The Court has jurisdiction over the matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§§ 1331, 1345 and 42 U.S.C. §§ 1973j(d), 1973j(f), and 15511, and venue
properly lies in the Galveston Division of the Southern District of Texas.
Galveston County is covered under Section 4(f)(4) of
the Voting Rights Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1973b(f)(4) ("Section 4(f)(4)"), to
provide Spanish language written materials and assistance to voters. The State of Texas,
including Galveston County, has been subject to the requirements of Section 4(f)(4) since
September 23, 1975. 40 Fed. Reg. 43,746; see also 28 C.F.R. pt. 51, Appendix. As a result,
Galveston County has been under notice of its obligations under Section 4(f)(4) since 1975.
The Department has sent Galveston County and other covered jurisdictions information
regarding the bilingual election requirements of the Voting Rights Act.
According to the 2000 Census, Galveston County
had a total population of 250,158 persons, of whom 44,939 (17.96%) were Hispanic. The total
voting age citizen population was 171,965, of whom 21,620 (12.57%) were Hispanic. Of
Galveston County's Hispanic voting age citizen population, 4,260 were limited English proficient.
Defendants have failed to provide an adequate number
of bilingual poll officials trained to assist Spanish-speaking voters on election day, and
have failed to provide in an effective manner certain election-related information to
Defendants also have an obligation to ensure
that its polling places and poll workers comply with the Help America Vote Act of 2002 ("HAVA"),
42 U.S.C. §§ 15301 et seq., as it applies to Federal elections. Among other
requirements, they must provide provisional ballots to all voters in Federal elections
who believe that they are eligible to vote in the elections, even if the voter is not
listed in the registration book. 42 U.S.C. § 15482(a). Further, the County must
ensure that all HAVA-required information is posted at every polling place. This includes signs
regarding the identification requirements for first-time voters, general information on State and
Federal laws protecting one's right to vote (including a provisional ballot), a telephone contact
number to report violations, and State and Federal law prohibiting voting fraud. 42 U.S.C. §
15482(b). Galveston County has not met these HAVA requirements, in part, because it fails to
provide provisional ballots to all the polling places, train its poll workers adequately, monitor
poll workers' compliance with HAVA, or otherwise ensure compliance in its polling places.
To avoid protracted and costly litigation, the
parties have agreed that this lawsuit should be resolved through the terms of this Consent
Decree (the "Decree"). Accordingly, the United States and Defendants hereby consent to the
entry of this Decree, as indicated by the signatures of counsel at the end of this Order. The
parties waive a hearing and entry of findings of fact and conclusions of law on all issues
involved in this manner. Each party shall bear its own costs and fees.
Defendants acknowledge that they have not
successfully complied with all of the provisions of Section 4(f)(4) of the Voting Rights Act
and Sections 302(a) and 302(b) of the Help America Vote Act. Defendants are, however,
committed to comply fully with all of such requirements in future elections. Therefore,
Defendants stipulate that each provision of this Decree is appropriate and necessary.
Accordingly, it is hereby ORDERED, ADJUDGED,
AND DECREED that:
1. Defendants, their
agents, employees, contractors, successors, and all other persons representing the
interests of Defendants are hereby PERMANENTLY ENJOINED from:
- Failing to provide in Spanish "any registration or voting notices, forms,
instructions, assistance, or other materials or information relating to the
electoral process, including ballots," that they provide in English, as
required by Section 4(f)(4) of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §
- Failing to ensure that poll workers provide and receive adequate training
regarding: (1) the use of providing provisional ballots under Section
302(a) of HAVA; and (2) the display of all HAVA-required signs under
Section 302(b) of HAVA.
2. The terms of this
Decree apply to all Federal, State, and local elections that are administered by the County.
Whenever Defendants enter into an election services contract with any other entity,
political subdivision, or political party to conduct an election on behalf of that entity,
Defendants shall require such entity to agree to abide by the terms of this Decree as if such
entity were a party to this Decree with the United States, and consistent with the responsibility of
each entity to comply fully with Section 4(f)(4) of the Voting Rights Act and Sections 302(a) and
302(b) of the Help America Vote Act.
Translation and Dissemination of Election-Related
3. All information that
is disseminated by Galveston County in English about "registration or voting notices, forms,
instructions, assistance, or other materials or information relating to the electoral process,
including ballots," 42 U.S.C. § 1973b(f)(4), shall also be provided in the Spanish language.
4. Defendants shall ensure
that all Spanish and English language election information, materials, and announcements are
made equally available. Spanish language information shall be distributed in newspapers and
radio within Galveston County, on the Internet, and through other media that exclusively or
regularly publish or broadcast information in Spanish to the local population. The County
shall use such media to disseminate these minority language announcements in the form and
frequency best calculated to achieve notice and understanding equal to that provided to the
English-speaking population and to provide substantially the same information, but need not
be identical in all respects to English language announcements.
5. Spanish-language assistance
shall be available at all locations where election-related transactions are conducted. Trained
bilingual (Spanish and English fluent) election personnel shall be available to answer
voting-related questions by telephone without cost during normal business hours and while the
polls are open on election days. The County may coordinate the provision of such services with
other governmental or non-governmental entities that conduct elections.
6. Defendants shall recruit,
hire, and assign poll officials able to understand, speak, write, and read Spanish fluently
to provide effective assistance to Spanish-speaking voters at the polls on election days.
7. Galveston County shall
survey its employees to identify personnel who speak Spanish fluently and, to the extent such
employees can be made available to provide assistance, allow and encourage such employees to
serve at the polls on election day. The County shall request that cities, school districts,
and other entities that are involved in conducting elections in Galveston County perform
similar surveys of their employees. The County shall also request each school district or
other educational entity within the County to devise and implement a program that allows
and encourages bilingual students selected (as permitted by State law and as part of an
educational program devised by such district) to serve as poll officials on election day
for all County elections, including election days that fall on school days, with such students
receiving the pay and benefits provided by law for such poll officials. The County shall advise
counsel for the United States of any entity that does not participate fully in the event that
there is difficulty obtaining sufficient bilingual personnel.
8. The County shall
invite all individuals on the Advisory Meeting roster, discussed below, to serve as
poll officials and to encourage other bilingual voters to do so.
9. In addition to
the requirements of State law,
- any election precinct in which there are 100-249 registered voters with
Spanish surnames shall be staffed by at least one bilingual election official;
- any election precinct in which there are 250-499 registered voters with
Spanish surnames shall be staffed by at least two bilingual election officials;
- any election precinct in which there are 500 or more registered voters with
Spanish surnames shall be staffed by at least three bilingual election officials; and
- Defendants shall employ bilingual personnel, trained in Spanish language
election terminology, who shall be on call and available to travel to a
precinct insufficiently staffed by bilingual poll officials to provide any
necessary assistance to any Spanish-speaking voter.
The parties may by written agreement adjust
these requirements in light of reliable information that the actual need for language
assistance in a particular polling place is lesser or greater than these standards or
that the anticipated voter turnout is substantially lower than average voter turnout.
10. Signs in both English
and Spanish shall be posted prominently at all polling places stating that Spanish language
assistance is available. At sites without bilingual staff, signs in both English and
Spanish shall be posted that explain how voters can obtain Spanish language assistance.
Election Official Training
11. Prior to each
election, in addition to any required State or County training, the County shall train
all poll officials and other election personnel present at the polls regarding the following:
- The provisions of Section 4(f)(4) of the Voting Rights Act, including the
legal obligation and means to make Spanish language assistance and
materials available to voters, and the requirement that poll officials be
respectful and courteous to all voters regardless of race, ethnicity, color, or
language abilities and to avoid inappropriate comments; and
- Sections 302(a), and 302(b) of HAVA, including the specific requirements
to post all HAVA-required signs, in English and Spanish, so that all voters
can easily view such signs, the provisional ballot requirements and the
procedure for completing that ballot.
In addition to the general training for poll
officials, the County shall train all bilingual poll officials on Spanish language
election terminology, voting instructions, and other election-related issues. The
County shall maintain a record of which poll officials attend training sessions,
including the time, location, and training personnel involved.
Response to Complaints About Poll Officials
12. Defendants, upon
receipt of complaints by voters, whether oral or written, shall investigate expeditiously
any allegations of poll official hostility toward Spanish-speaking and/or Hispanic voters
in any election. The results of the investigation(s) conducted by the Defendants shall
be reported to the United States within 45 days. Where there is credible evidence that poll
officials have engaged in hostile treatment of Spanish-speaking or Hispanic voters, Defendants
shall remove those poll officials.
Spanish-Language Election Program Coordinator
13. The County shall
designate an individual to coordinate the County's Spanish language election Program ("the
Coordinator") for all elections within the County. The County shall provide the Coordinator
with support sufficient to meet the goals of the program. The Coordinator shall be able to
understand, speak, write, and read fluently both Spanish and English. The Coordinator's
responsibilities shall include coordination of the translation of ballots and other
election information; development and oversight of Spanish publicity programs, including
selection of appropriate Spanish language media for notices and announcements; training,
recruitment, and assessment of Spanish language proficiency of bilingual poll officials and
interpreters; and managing other aspects of the program. The Coordinator shall also conduct the
Spanish-Language Advisory Meetings discussed below.
Spanish-Language Advisory Meeting
14. The County shall
conduct Spanish-Language Advisory Meetings ("Advisory Meetings") to assist and inform
the Spanish language election program. The Advisory Meetings shall be open to any
interested person or organization. The County shall invite participation from
business, labor, civil, social organizations, and others serving the Spanish-speaking community
as well as from political organizations. As soon as possible, the County shall compile a roster
("Advisory Meeting roster") of such interested persons, including telephone and facsimile
numbers or email addresses, to be invited to the Advisory Meetings. The County shall update the
Advisory Meeting roster with the telephone and facsimile numbers or e mail addresses of past
attendees of the Advisory Meetings. Prior to the first election conducted by the County under the
Decree, Advisory Meetings shall be conducted regularly for six months before such election and
at least once during the two months after the election. Thereafter, Advisory Meetings shall be
conducted as it determines is necessary so long as it is conducted at least three times during the
six months before the November 2008 general election, at least once during the two months after
the November 2008 general election, and at least twice during the five months before the
November 2010 general election. The Coordinator shall provide notice of all planned meetings,
including the date, time, location, agenda, at least 14 days in advance of such meeting all
individuals on the Advisory Meeting roster and to the general public.
15. Within five days
after each meeting, the Coordinator shall provide a written summary of the discussion
and any decisions reached at the meeting to all individuals on the Advisory Meeting
roster and to the County Clerk. The County Clerk shall send to the Commissioners Court
of Galveston County a report listing all recommendations made at the meeting which have
been adopted. If the County Clerk decides not to implement a recommendation made at an
Advisory Meeting, the County Clerk shall provide to all individuals on the Advisory Meeting
roster, through the Coordinator, and shall include in the report to the Commissioners
Court a written statement of the reasons for rejecting such recommendation. The report
shall be entered upon the minutes of the Commissioners Court and will be available to the
public in accordance with the provisions of the Texas Open Records Act.
16. The County shall
transmit to all individuals on the Advisory Meeting roster, and to any additional
interested member of the public who requests such information, in English and Spanish,
copies of all election information, announcements, and notices that are provided or made
available to the electorate and general public, and request that they share such information
17. To assist in
monitoring compliance with and ensure effectiveness of this Decree, and to protect
the Fourteenth Amendment rights of the citizens of Galveston County, the appointment
of federal observers is authorized for Galveston County pursuant to Section 3(a) of
the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1973a(a), for the duration of this Decree.
18. Defendants shall
recognize the authority of federal observers to observe all aspects of voting conducted
in the polls on election day, including the authority to view County personnel providing
assistance to voters during voting, except where the voter objects.
Evaluation of Plan
19. The parties
recognize that regular and ongoing reassessment may be necessary to provide the most
effective and efficient Spanish language Program and to ensure compliance with the
Help America Vote Act. The County shall evaluate the Spanish language election program
after each election to determine which aspects of the program are functioning well; whether
any aspects need improvement; and how to affect needed improvements. The County also shall
evaluate its program to ensure that each polling place is in compliance with the Help America
Vote Act. The program may be adjusted at any time upon joint written agreement of the parties.
Retention of Documents and Reporting Requirements
20. Throughout the duration
of this Decree, the County shall make and maintain written records of all actions taken
pursuant to this Decree and shall produce copies of such records. Such documents, lists,
and records shall be made available, upon reasonable notice, to the United States upon
21. Throughout the duration
of this Decree, at least 30 days before each County-administered election, the County shall
provide to counsel for the United States:
(a) the name, address, and precinct designation of each polling place;
(b) the name and title of each poll official appointed and assigned to serve at each precinct;
(c) a designation of whether each poll official is fluent in English and another language,
and an indication of what other languages are spoken by each poll worker; and
(d) copies of any signs or other written information provided at polling places.
Within 45 days after each such election, the County shall provide to counsel for the United States
any updated report regarding changes in these items as well as information about all complaints
the County received at the election regarding language or assistance issues, by express mail or
electronically to the following address:
United States Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
1800 G Street, N.W., Room NWB-7254
Washington, D.C. 20006
Facsimile: (202) 307-3961
22. This Decree is final
and binding between the parties and their successors in office regarding the claims raised
in this action. It shall remain in effect through December 31, 2010.
23. The Court shall
retain jurisdiction of this case to enter further relief or such other orders as may
be necessary for the effectuation of the terms of this agreement and to ensure compliance
with Section 4(f)(4) of the Voting Rights Act and Sections 302(a) and 302(b) of HAVA.
Agreed to this __16th__ day of __July__, 2007.
AGREED AND CONSENTED TO:
ALBERTO R. GONZALES
WAN J. KIM
Assistant Attorney General
Civil Rights Division
Galveston County Legal Department
DONALD J. DeGABRIELLE, JR.
United States Attorney
DANIEL DAVID HU
Assistant United States Attorney
Texas Bar No. 10131415
Chief, Voting Section
Special Litigation Counsel
DONALD L. PALMER
SEAN W. O'DONNELL
Texas Bar No. 24038639
United States Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20530
Telephone: (202) 305-0827
Facsimile: (202) 307-3961
JUDGMENT AND ORDER
This Court, having considered the United States'
claim under Section 4(f)(4) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1973b(f)(4),
and Sections 302(a) and 302(b) of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 ("HAVA"), 42 U.S.C.
§§ 15482(a),(b), and having determined that it has jurisdiction over this claim,
has considered the terms of the Consent Decree, and hereby enters the relief set forth above
and incorporates those terms herein.
ENTERED and ORDERED this _20th__ day of __July___, 2007.
JOHN D. RAINEY
UNITED STATE DISTRICT JUDGE