Department of Justice Seal

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CR

MONDAY, AUGUST 6, 2001

(202) 616-2777

WWW.USDOJ.GOV

TDD (202) 514-1888


JUSTICE DEPARTMENT VOTING RIGHTS LAWSUIT ASSERTS THAT A

MASSACHUSETTS CITY IS DENYING HISPANICS EQUAL
PARTICIPATION IN THE ELECTORAL PROCESS


WASHINGTON, D.C. The Justice Department today asked a federal court to hear new claims that the city of Lawrence, Massachusetts, continues to deny its Hispanic citizens an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice to the city council and school committee under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

"All citizens have the right to participate fully in the democratic process of voting," said Ralph F. Boyd Jr., Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. "Hispanic citizens in Lawrence should have the same opportunity as other voters to participate in the political process, and the same opportunity as everyone else to elect their chosen candidates to their city council and school committee."

James B. Farmer, United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, added, "The Voting Rights Act guarantees that all voters, not just those in the majority, should have a fair chance to make their votes count. The Justice Department is committed to making sure that opportunity is truly equal, regardless of race or ethnicity."

The Justice Department sued the city of Lawrence in 1998 in an effort to eliminate numerous barriers that the city's Hispanic citizens faced in casting their votes and to obtain fair election systems for the city council and school committee . A partial settlement between the Department and the city in 1999 led to the hiring of additional Spanish-speaking poll workers and a full-time Hispanic election coordinator. The city also agreed to draw election plans for its city council and school committee that complied with the Voting Rights Act after the 2000 Census.

In June 2001, however, the city adopted election plans that the Department believes continue to dilute the votes of Lawrence's Hispanic citizens. Today's filing in U.S. District Court in Boston asserts that the recently adopted election schemes violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by not giving Hispanic voters an equal opportunity to elect candidates to the city council and to the school committee. The filing asks the city to formulate election plans that will give Hispanic voters an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice.

Six of the nine Lawrence city council members are elected from single-member districts and three are elected from the city as a whole. Lawrence's school committee is composed of six members who will be elected from single-member districts and the mayor. The district boundaries adopted in June for electing district representatives for both bodies were substantially unchanged from the plan used in the 1990's.

Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which was originally enacted in 1965, is the major nationwide statutory prohibition against all voting discrimination. Since 1984, Lawrence also has been subject to the language provisions included in Section 203 of the Act.

To lodge complaints about discriminatory voting practices, voters may call the Voting Section of the Justice Department's 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 Internet site at: http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/voting

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