WASHINGTON — The Justice Department announced a settlement today with Lorain County, Ohio, to protect the rights of Spanish-speaking Puerto Rican voters under Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act. Today’s agreement is intended to resolve concerns that limited-English proficient Puerto Rican voters were being denied their full voting rights because the county failed to provide language assistance as required by law.
The county has agreed that, starting with the Nov. 8, 2011, election, it will provide county-wide bilingual ballots on the voting machines at the polls, as well as bilingual poll workers in targeted precincts. The agreement includes additional steps that the county will take to achieve full compliance with Section 4(e) by the first election held in 2012.
The parties have also agreed to seek a federal court order authorizing federal observers to monitor Election Day activities in polling places in Lorain County and to create a community-based Spanish-language advisory committee, which will include participation and feedback from the local Puerto Rican community.
“The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “Today’s agreement will ensure that Spanish-speaking voters have equal access to the ballot box and receive critical language assistance as the law requires so their votes will count. I greatly appreciate the cooperation of county officials in working closely with us to reach this resolution.”
“The citizens of Lorain County should be proud of their Board of Elections. Quietly, competently and collaboratively, they’ve protected the interests of Lorain County citizens,” said Steve Dettelbach, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio. “Protecting the rights of all our citizens is at the core of our democracy and the core of the United States Attorney’s Office’s mission.”
Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act requires that jurisdictions with significant Puerto Rican populations cannot deny an individual’s voting rights based on their ability to read, write, understand or interpret any election matter in English. The 2000 Census found more than 13,000 Puerto Ricans resided in Lorain County , and that 32.5 percent of the county’s voting-age Puerto Ricans were limited-English proficient. Recently-issued 2010 Census data found that there are now more than 17,000 Puerto Ricans in Lorain County, and that the county’s Puerto Rican population has increased by nearly 60 percent since 1990.
To file complaints about discriminatory voting practices, voters may call the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division at 1-800-253-3931. More information about the Voting Rights Act and other federal voting rights laws is available on the Justice Department website at www.justice.gov/crt/voting/index.php.