FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE|
FRIDAY, JANUARY 21, 2005
TDD (202) 514-1888
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT SETTLES VOTING RIGHTS LAWSUIT AGAINST WESTCHESTER COUNTY, NEW YORK
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Justice Department today announced the filing of a lawsuit and simultaneous entry of a consent decree settling allegations that Westchester County, New York violated both the Voting Rights Act and the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).
The complaint, filed in the United States District Count for the Southern District of New York on January 19, stated that Westchester County failed to make available in Spanish the same election-related information it makes available to its voters in English, as required by Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, and also failed to post information on votersí rights and responsibilities that HAVA mandates be publicly displayed at all polling places.
Federal law requires that jurisdictions with a substantial minority-language voter population, as determined by the Census Bureau, provide voting materials and information in that language. Under the consent decree, the County will provide all voting materials in Spanish and have Spanish-speaking personnel available where needed to answer votersí questions. The HAVA voter information will be posted in all polling places in the United States for federal elections.
"Every citizen has a right to vote, regardless of what language they speak, and the new information requirements of the Help America Vote Act are an important safeguard for votersí rights," said R. Alexander Acosta, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. "Todayís consent decree removes a procedural impediment to voting which hindered significant numbers of language minority citizens from exercising that right and emphasizes the importance of complying with HAVA."
The consent decree, which still must be approved by a three judge federal court, requires that the County take the necessary steps to comply with federal law. It also permits the Justice Department to monitor future elections in Westchester County. The Civil Rights Division will share information gathered by the observers with county officials to aid compliance with the agreement and with federal law.
The Civil Rights Division has launched a major initiative to ensure the compliance by each jurisdiction covered under the minority language provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Since January 2004, the Division has announced agreements protecting Spanish-speaking voters in Suffolk County, New York, San Benito and Ventura Counties, California, and Yakima County, Washington; Spanish-, Tagalog- (Filipino), and Vietnamese-speaking voters in San Diego County, California; Vietnamese-speaking voters in Harris County (Houston), Texas; Navajo and Pueblo voters in Cibola and Socorro Counties, New Mexico. This also the second lawsuit filed by the Division to enforce the Help America Vote Act of 2002.
To file complaints about discriminatory voting practices, including acts of harassment or intimidation, voters may call the Voting Section of the Justice Departmentís 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 www.usdoj.gov/crt/voting/index.htm.