FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE |
TUESDAY, MARCH 2, 2004
TDD (202) 514-1888
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT SIGNS AGREEMENT WITH HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS TO PROTECT THE RIGHTS OF VIETNAMESE-SPEAKING VOTERS
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Justice Department today announced the signing and approval of an agreement reached with Harris County, Texas to protect the rights of Vietnamese-speaking voters. The memorandum of understanding and agreement details the county’s responsibilities in providing qualified minority-language voters full access to the voting process.
The agreement was signed by the county’s chief election official, Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman and approved today by the Harris County Commission.
“This agreement underscores our commitment to protecting the rights of minority-language citizens,” said Mr. Acosta. “Active participation in the political process binds us more fully as a nation. I commend Harris County and Ms. Kaufman for their cooperation.”
In July 2002, the Census Bureau determined that Harris County has nearly 17,000 voting age United States citizens who speak Vietnamese. Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act requires jurisdictions with a substantial minority-language voter population to provide voting materials in that language.
After the county had difficulty fulfilling their obligations towards Vietnamese-speaking voters, Civil Rights Division attorneys monitored the county’s 2003 elections and identified the specific problems they faced. The agreement provides specific steps to be taken by the county to remedy these problems. These solutions were crafted with the close cooperation and recommendations of county officials, including Ms. Kaufman.
The steps the county will take under the agreement include the following:
- hire an individual to coordinate the county’s Vietnamese language election program;
- provide all voter registration and election information and materials, including the voting machine ballot, in Vietnamese, as well as English and Spanish;
- establish a broad-based election advisory group to make recommendations and assist in election publicity, voter education and other aspects of the language program; and
- train poll officials in election procedures and applicable federal voting rights law.
Section 203 also applies to all political subdivisions and units within Harris County.
Accordingly, the Agreement also requires the cooperation of all cities, school districts and other entities in Harris County that contract with the County to conduct their elections. The Agreement is flexible to meet the evolving needs of Harris County voters. The Civil Rights Division will remain involved to provide insight and technical assistance.
The effort in Harris County is a part of the Civil Rights Division’s broader effort to ensure full and fair access to the ballot for all voters. The Division has reached out to each of the 80 jurisdictions newly covered by Section 203 to make sure that they are aware of their obligations. Also, the Division has worked with each state and covered territory to implement the federal election reform requirements of the Help America Vote Act of 2002.