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UNITED STATES ATTORNEY FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK ANNOUNCES SETTLEMENT OF VOTING RIGHTS LAWSUIT AGAINST ORANGE COUNTY, NEW YORK

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday April 19, 2012

Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Thomas E. Perez, the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, announced today that the United States has filed and simultaneously settled a voting rights lawsuit against ORANGE COUNTY, alleging that the County’s system of English-only elections violates Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Section 4(e) provides that the right to register and vote may not be denied to citizens who have completed the sixth grade in a public school where the predominant classroom language is a language other than English, as is the case in Puerto Rico.  Pursuant to the settlement, the County will provide election information and materials in Spanish and English, and will also provide bilingual assistance or translation at various polling places throughout the County on election day.  The settlement, in the form of a Consent Decree, was approved today by United States District Judge Edgardo Ramos.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara stated:  “The ability of citizens to participate effectively in the electoral process is a cornerstone of our democracy – for many years, Puerto Rican voters in Orange County were denied that basic right.  With today’s settlement, they will now be on equal footing with English-speaking voters and will have the opportunity to meaningfully participate in the electoral process.”   

Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas E. Perez stated:  “Puerto Rican voters in Orange County were denied the right to vote when election officials denied language assistance to eligible voters. 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 following allegations are based on the Complaint filed in White Plains federal court:

ORANGE COUNTY, which includes a significant population of Puerto Rican voters with limited English proficiency, conducted English-only elections in 2009, 2010, and 2011, depriving thousands of county residents of the right to vote, despite repeated requests for Spanish-language information.  Specifically, ORANGE COUNTY did not translate election-related materials into Spanish, including the official ballot, sample ballots, election notices, and other voter information.  In addition, the County failed to provide bilingual assistance on election day to Spanish-speaking voters.

Under the terms of the court-approved settlement, ORANGE COUNTY will now provide election materials in Spanish, including the official ballot, sample ballots, absentee applications and absentee ballots, voter registration forms, election notifications, and information posted at polling places on election day.  In addition, the County will translate election-related information on the Board of Elections’s website into Spanish.  ORANGE COUNTY will also provide bilingual assistance or translation at various polling places throughout the County on election day.  Pursuant to the Consent Decree, the Federal Government has been authorized to monitor upcoming elections in ORANGE COUNTY to ensure that the terms of the Consent Decree are being fulfilled.

The case is being handled jointly by the Civil Rights Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys James Nicholas Boeving and Benjamin H. Torrance are handling the case with attorneys in the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division.

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