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Monday, September 22, 2008
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Justice Department Reaches Voting Rights Settlement with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

WASHINGTON The Justice Department announced today that it has reached a settlement agreement with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts resolving allegations that the Commonwealth violated the rights of Puerto Rican voters under Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act (VRA).

Section 4(e) requires that election materials, including ballots, be provided in Spanish for Puerto Rican voters who are limited-English proficient (LEP) and who were educated in an American school in which the predominant classroom language was Spanish. The Department alleged that the Commonwealth violated the VRA by failing to provide translated ballots and other election materials in Spanish, during state and federal elections, for LEP Puerto Rican voters in the City of Worcester, Mass. The City of Worcester has provided election materials in Spanish, in compliance with the law, during municipal elections since 2001.

According to the Department, the Commonwealth’s failure to provide the translated materials to Worcester resulted in Puerto Rican voters not being able to access the polls or cast an informed ballot. According to the 2000 Census, the City of Worcester had a total population of 172,648, of whom 17,091 (9.9 percent) were persons of Puerto Rican descent and 9,197 (5.3 percent) were born in Puerto Rico. Moreover, there are 199,207 persons of Puerto Rican descent in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, comprising 3.14 percent of the total population.

Under the settlement agreement, whenever Massachusetts provides the City of Worcester with election materials, including ballots, sample ballots and voting instructions, the Commonwealth is required to provide those materials in both Spanish and English to accommodate its voting population.

"In reaching this agreement, Massachusetts officials have demonstrated a commitment to meeting the needs of Puerto Rican citizens in Worcester," said Grace Chung Becker, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "This agreement reflects the Justice Department’s commitment to protecting the voting rights and ballot access of all Americans."

"This agreement honors the promise of the Voting Rights Act by ensuring that language minority voters have meaningful access to the ballot in Worcester," said Michael J. Sullivan, U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts. "We recognize and appreciate the commitment of the Secretary of the Commonwealth to resolve this matter."

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 website at