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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The city of Lawrence, Massachusetts, will now provide election and voting information in Spanish and assign Hispanic bilingual election officials to all city voting precincts, under an agreement reached today with the Justice Department.

The agreement, filed in U.S. District Court in Boston, resolves three of five claims brought by the Justice Department in a complaint filed in November 1998, alleging that Lawrence was in violation of the Voting Rights Act by not providing effective language assistance to voters with limited English skills and not appointing pollworkers who represent the Hispanic population. The remaining two claims, which concern election methods for the Lawrence City Council and School Committee, are scheduled to be tried in March 2000.

"Today's agreement will help ensure that Hispanic citizens of Lawrence have a voice in the democratic process," said Bill Lann Lee, Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. "We are pleased that the city has agreed to a plan designed to make the election process in Lawrence as accessible to Hispanic citizens as it is to the English-speaking population."

"This is a big step in the right direction for Lawrence, and we commend the city for its diligent efforts to resolve the issues addressed in this agreement," added Donald Stern, United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts. "The steps required under the agreement are designed to afford informed and open access to the election process for all Spanish-speaking citizens."

Under the agreement, which must be approved by the court, the city will:

create a Spanish-language Election Information Program designed to assist Spanish-speaking voters at every stage of the electoral process;

hire a bilingual program coordinator who will operate the program with input from representatives of the Hispanic community;

translate election information into Spanish and disseminate Spanish-translations prepared by the Secretary of State's office of all election information the state generates;

develop and implement an outreach and publicity program that will provide election-related information to Spanish-speaking voters through the local Spanish-language media and community groups and provide for regular meetings between the city, the program coordinator, and representatives of the Hispanic community;

assign at least four Hispanic, bilingual pollworkers to work in 18 of the city's 24 voting precincts and assign at least one Hispanic, bilingual pollworker working at all times during the election day at the 6 other precincts; and,

assign pollworkers in a non-discriminatory manner to leadership positions in the polling places.

Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which was originally enacted in 1965, is the major nationwide statutory prohibition against all voting rights discrimination. Since 1984, Lawrence has been subject to the minority language provisions included in Section 203 of the Act, because more than 5 percent of its voting age citizens are Hispanics with limited English skills, and the illiteracy rate of those citizens exceeds the national illiteracy rate.