|U.S. Department of Justice |
Civil Rights Division
|Office of the Assistant Attorney General||Washington, DC 20530|
| ||August 31, 2004|
Ms. Penny L. Pew
P.O. Box 428
St. Johns, AZ 85936
I am writing in reference to the minority language election information requirements of Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 1973 aa-1a. Section 203, which is a critical component of the Voting Rights Act, is intended to provide all United States citizens, including those who do not speak English very well, an opportunity to participate in the political process on an equal, effective and informed basis.
As you will recall, in a letter dated July 26, 2002, the Department of Justice advised your county of its obligations under Section 203, and provided copies of the Attorney General's Guidelines. The Guidelines as well as a helpful informational brochure remain available on our web site. Since then, attorneys from the Civil Rights Division's Voting Section have spoken with and/or visited with you. These attorneys remain available to assist you in compliance, and welcome questions you may have.
I write again as the November 2, 2004 general election approaches to stress the need for full compliance with this important federal law, and to offer additional ideas on best practices for compliance that we have drawn from our experience with local officials across the United States. Section 203 requires your county, and each political subdivision within the county, to provide all election materials and information that are provided in English in Spanish as well. Each elections office communicates election information to local citizens in many ways, including mailings, newspaper announcements, web sites, press releases, responses to citizen calls, etc. Federal law requires that in your county, all such information must be provided in Spanish as well as in English through channels best calculated to reach the minority language population.
To assure that all materials and information are being provided, local officials have found it most helpful to inventory all materials made available in English and identify whether the materials have been translated and made accessible to language minority voters. A simple chart with this information for each language can tell you quickly what gaps, if any, need to be filled before the November election.
In addition to the materials published by your office, you also provide election information to voters at the polls on election day. There are ballots, signs, and election judges and clerks who answer the many questions that voters have. In those precincts where there are voters who rely on Spanish, you should be prepared to provide election information and assistance in that language, just as it is provided in English. To this end, the county should ascertain which polling places have such voters and the language skills of its poll officials to assure that the language need is being met in the polling place.
Because your local population may have shifted considerably since the 2000 Census, it may be useful to identify the current population served by the various polling places through analysis of voter registration records or other means. The Texas Secretary of State's Office, for example, very helpfully provided county election officials in that State with the number of Spanish-surnamed voters in voting precincts in their particular county to help county officials identify polling places with significant Spanish-surname populations, among whom are likely to be voters who require the assistance of bilingual officials. If you do not have the capability to perform such surname analysis, the Civil Rights Division's Voting Section staff will be happy to assist you.
It is our experience, based on our observation of local election systems around the United States, that the practices outlined above will materially help you in meeting your affirmative obligation to comply with the minority language provisions of the Voting Rights Act. We welcome additional ideas of your own successful practices to achieve effective and efficient compliance.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact John Tanner, the Special Litigation Counsel for Section 203 enforcement in the Voting Section. He may be reached by phone (202-514-2386) or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org). We look forward to working with you.Sincerely,
R. Alexander Acosta
Assistant Attorney General