The Justice Department announced a settlement today with Orange County, N.Y., to protect the rights of Spanish-speaking Puerto Rican voters under Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act. Today’s consent decree 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 bilingual ballots and Spanish-language assistance as required by law.
Orange County has agreed that, starting with the April 24, 2012 presidential primary election, it will provide county-wide bilingual ballots at the polls. The consent decree includes additional steps that the county will take to achieve full compliance with Section 4(e) by the next election held in 2012. For example, the county will provide bilingual poll workers and the consent decree would also create a community-based Spanish-language advisory committee, which would allow the local Puerto Rican community to help shape the county’s bilingual election program.
“Puerto Rican voters in Orange County were denied the right to vote when election officials denied language assistance to eligible voters,” 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.”
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara said: “The ability of citizens to participate effectively in the electoral process is the cornerstone of our democracy. For many years, Orange County denied Puerto Rican voters their right to meaningfully participate in the electoral process by conducting English-only elections in violation of the Voting Rights Act. The settlement announced today ensures that these citizens have an equal ability to participate in our democracy.”
The consent decree along with a complaint alleging violations of Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act was filed with the federal court in the Southern District of New York. The Civil Rights Division brought this action in conjunction with the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.
Section 4(e) prohibits jurisdictions from conditioning the voting rights of citizens educated in American-flag schools where the predominant classroom language is other than English, on their ability to read, write, understand, or interpret election-related information in English. Orange County has a significant Puerto Rican population which is protected by Section 4(e) because the primary language in schools in Puerto Rico is Spanish. The 2010 Census data shows that the Puerto Rican population in Orange County has increased by 52.5 percent in the last decade, and there are now more than 29,210 Puerto Ricans in Orange County, constituting 7.8 percent of its total population.
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 .