WASHINGTON — The Justice Department announced today the settlement of a lawsuit against Kane County, Ill., alleging violations of the rights of Spanish-speaking voters under the Voting Rights Act. The settlement agreement with Kane County requires the county to provide all voting materials and assistance in Spanish as well as in English and ensures that limited English-proficient voters can receive assistance from the persons of their choice. It also permits the Justice Department to monitor future elections.
“Every citizen has a right to vote, regardless of what language they speak,” said Rena J. Comisac, Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. “Today’s agreement removes a procedural impediment to voting which hindered significant numbers of language minority citizens from exercising that right. The county should be congratulated for resolving the issue quickly and constructively.”
“The right to vote is a fundamental guarantee for all American citizens,” said Patrick J. Fitzgerald, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. “Without the assistance necessary to ensure equal access to the polls, Spanish speakers cannot exercise that right effectively. We are pleased that the county has agreed to resolve this complaint.”
The complaint charged that the county failed to provide Spanish-language assistance at the polls to the majority of its Spanish-speaking voters in recent elections and that the county prevented Spanish-speaking voters from receiving assistance from the persons of their choice, even in cases where bilingual assistance was otherwise unavailable. The settlement agreement resolves all of the charges in the complaint and was filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois contemporaneously with the complaint and an accompanying order allowing federal observers to monitor Election Day activities in its polling places. The order still must be approved by a panel of three judges.
The Voting Rights Act requires that certain jurisdictions with a substantial minority-language voter population, which includes Kane County, provide all voting materials and assistance in the minority language as well as in English. The Act also assures voters who need assistance in voting, such as those unable to see or read the ballot, the right to receive that assistance from a person of their choice, other than the voter’s employer or union representative.
Since 2002, the Division has brought more than twice the number of lawsuits to enforce the minority language provisions of the Act than it brought in the preceding 26 years combined; all but one of the lawsuits were to enforce the assistance provision of the Act. During this time period, the Division has filed successful Voting Rights Act lawsuits across the country, with cases in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania,Tennessee, Texas and Washington, and has filed the first cases in its history on behalf of Filipino, Korean, Haitian, and Vietnamese American voters.
To file complaints about discriminatory voting practices, including acts of harassment or intimidation, 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 Web site at www.usdoj.gov/crt/voting/index.htm.