THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
CIVIL ACTION NO. 1:08-cv-03276-JHR-AMD
SALEM COUNTY, New Jersey; the SALEM COUNTY
BOARD OF ELECTIONS; SALEM COUNTY BOARD
MEMBERS FLORENCE BUTLER, JOHN BURKE,
MICHAEL FACEMYER, CAROL WADDINGTON, in SETTLEMENT
their official capacities; SALEM COUNTY REGISTRARS AGREEMENT AND
MARGARET BUTLER AND ANDREA McLAUGHLIN PROPOSED ORDER
SOSNOWIK, in their official capacities; and GILDA T.
GILL, County Clerk, in her official capacity; BOROUGH
OF PENNS GROVE, NEW JERSEY; and SHARON
WILLIAMS, Municipal Clerk and Deputy Registrar,
in her official capacity;
The United States of America filed this action pursuant to Sections 2, 4(e), and 208 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1973, 1973b(e) & 1973aa-6, over violations of Sections 2, 4(e), and 208 arising from Defendants' election practices and procedures as they affect Hispanic voters. The Court has jurisdiction over the matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 & 1345 and 42 U.S.C. §§ 1973j(d) & 1973j(f).
Defendants are subject to the requirements of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which provides that, "no voting qualification or prerequisite to voting or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision in a manner which results in denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color, . . . or membership in a language minority group." 42 U.S.C. § 1973(a) (Section 2).
Defendants are subject to Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits any political subdivision from "conditioning the right to vote . . . on the ability to read, write, understand, or interpret" the English language by persons educated in American flag classrooms, including Puerto Rico, where the predominant language is not English. 42 U.S.C. § 1973b(e)(1) (Section 4(e)).
Defendants are also subject to the requirements of Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. 1973aa-6 (Section 208). Section 208 provides that any voter who requires assistance to vote by reason of blindness, disability or inability to read or write may be given assistance by a person of the voter's choice, other than the voter's employer or agent of that employer or officer or agent of the voter's union. 42 U.S.C. 1973aa-6.
Defendants do not admit the allegations of the Complaint. Defendants, however, are committed to implementing procedures that will protect the rights of Hispanic voters in Penns Grove and Salem County to fully participate in the electoral process in compliance with the Voting Rights Act, for all future elections. Therefore, the parties stipulate that each provision of this Decree is appropriate and necessary.
To avoid protracted and costly litigation, the parties have conferred in good faith and have agreed that this lawsuit should be resolved through the terms of this Consent Decree (the "Decree"). Accordingly, the United States and Defendants hereby consent to the entry of this Decree, as indicated by the signatures of counsel at the end of this Order. The parties waive a hearing and entry of findings of fact and conclusions of law on all issues involved in this manner. Each party shall bear its own costs and fees.
Accordingly, it is hereby ORDERED AND DECREED that:
1. Defendants, their agents, employees, contractors, successors, and all other persons representing the interests of Defendants are hereby PERMANENTLY ENJOINED from:
- Imposing or applying "any voting qualification or prerequisite to voting or standard, practice, or procedure ... in a manner which results in denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color, ... or membership in a language minority group," or otherwise discriminating against Spanish-speaking and other Hispanic citizens, in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §1973;
- Failing to provide all election materials and assistance, and any publicity or information about elections that they provide in English, in Spanish, as required by Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1973b(e); and
- Interfering with or otherwise not permitting any voter who requires assistance to vote by reason of blindness, disability, or inability to read or write to be given assistance by a person of the voter's choice, other than the voter's employer or agent of that employer or officer or agent of the voter's union, in violation of Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 1973aa-6;
2. The terms of this Decree apply to all Federal, State, and local elections that are administered by the Defendants.
3. Defendants shall take all measures needed to ensure that the Hispanic population of Penns Grove, Salem County does not "have less opportunity to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice," including all the measures set forth below.
4. Upon receipt of a voter challenge, Defendants shall follow the state law procedures set forth in Election Law of New Jersey, N.J.S.A. 19:15-18.1 et. seq., as appropriate and shall also undertake all measures necessary to ensure compliance with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
Translation and Dissemination of Election-Related Materials
5. Defendants shall provide in English and Spanish all written election-related materials, including the official ballot, sample ballots, absentee ballots, voter registration applications, candidate qualification information, notification of elections, polling place changes, polling place signage, any voter information guides or pamphlets provided by Defendants, voting instructions and procedures at the polls, and other election material used at the polls, in every election district in which the registered Hispanic voters constitute more than five percent of the registered voters.
6. Defendants shall ensure that all Spanish and English language election information, materials, and announcements are made equally available. Spanish-language information shall be distributed in newspapers and radio within Salem County, on the Internet, and through other media as may be available that exclusively or regularly publish or broadcast information in Spanish to the local population. The County shall use such media to disseminate these minority language announcements in the form and frequency best calculated to achieve notice and understanding equal to that provided to the English-speaking population and to provide substantially the same information, but need not be identical in all respects to English language announcements.
7. Trained bilingual (Spanish and English fluent) election personnel shall be available in person or by telephone during normal business hours and while the polls are open on election days at all locations where election-related transactions are conducted in Penns Grove, Salem County. The County may coordinate the provision of such services with other governmental or non-governmental entities that conduct elections.
8. Defendant Board of Election shall recruit, hire, and assign poll officials able to understand, speak, write, and read Spanish fluently to provide effective assistance, as defined in paragraphs 8 and 11, to Spanish-speaking voters in Penns Grove, Salem County at the polls on election days.
9. Salem County shall survey its employees to identify personnel who speak Spanish fluently and, to the extent such employees can be made available to provide assistance, allow and encourage such employees to serve at the polls on election day. The County shall also request each school district or other educational entity within the County to allow bilingual students to serve as district board workers on election day for all County elections, including election days that fall on school days.
10. The County shall invite all individuals on the Community Outreach Group roster, discussed below, to serve as poll officials and to encourage other bilingual voters to do so.
11. As required to ensure compliance with Sections 2 and 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act, and in addition to the requirements of State law,
- any election election district in Penns Grove, Salem County in which 50-124 of registered voters have Spanish surnames shall be staffed by at least one bilingual election official;
- any election election district in Penns Grove, Salem County in which there are 125-249 of registered voters have Spanish surnames shall be staffed by at least two bilingual election officials; and
- any election election district in Penns Grove, Salem County in which 250 or more of registered voters have Spanish surnames shall be staffed by at least three bilingual election officials.
The parties may by written agreement adjust these requirements in light of reliable information that the actual need for language assistance in a particular polling place is lesser or greater than these standards or that the anticipated voter turnout is substantially lower than average voter turnout.
12. Signs in both English and Spanish shall be posted prominently at all polling places in Salem County stating that Spanish-language assistance is available. At sites without bilingual staff, signs in both English and Spanish shall be posted that explain how voters can obtain Spanish-language assistance.
Election Official Training
13. In addition to any required State or County training, the County shall train all district board workers, including newly appointed district board workers, and other election personnel regarding the following:
- The provisions of Section 4(e)of the Voting Rights Act, including the legal obligation and means to make Spanish-language assistance and materials available to voters, and the requirement that district board workers be respectful and courteous to all voters regardless of race, ethnicity, color, or language abilities and to avoid inappropriate comments;
- All district board workers for Defendants shall receive training on the legal requirements set forth in the Voting Rights Act, with a focus on the types of conduct that may constitute a violation under Section 2, and on New Jersey state law regarding when and how voters may be asked for identification, and how to respond to voter challenges. The training shall stress the importance of applying all voting standards and practices equally regardless of race, color, or membership in a language-minority group. Defendants shall maintain a record of which election officers attend the training, including the time, location, and training personnel involved.
- Defendants shall train all poll workers and other election personnel to be present at the polls on the following topics: applying all voting standards and practices equally; being respectful and courteous to all voters regardless of race, ethnicity, color, or language abilities; allowing voters their assistor of choice, including inside the voting booth, consistent with and as limited by Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1973aa-6; allowing any bilingual poll workers to assist minority-language voters; making them aware that all eligible citizens have the right to cast a ballot; and making them aware of their obligation to comply with all other applicable provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, including Section 11, 42 U.S.C. § 1973i.
In addition to the general training for district board workers and other election personnel, the County shall provide all bilingual election personnel with the United States Election Assistance Commission’s Glossary of Key Election Terminology (English-Spanish). The County shall maintain a record of which district board workers attend training sessions, including the time, location, and training personnel involved.
Response to Complaints About District Board Workers
14. Defendants, upon receipt of complaints by voters, or their representatives or agents, whether oral or written, in English or Spanish, agree to investigate expeditiously any allegations of election-officer hostility toward minority voters in any election. Where there is credible evidence that any election personnel, including a district board worker, have engaged in inappropriate treatment of voters, Defendants shall take appropriate remedial action, including removing officials if necessary.
Spanish-Language Election Program Coordinator
15. The County shall designate an individual to coordinate the County's Spanish-language election Program ("the Coordinator") for all elections within the County. The County shall provide the Coordinator with support sufficient to meet the goals of the program. The Coordinator shall be able to understand, speak, write, and read fluently both Spanish and English. The Coordinator's responsibilities shall include coordination of the translation of ballots and other election information; development and oversight of Spanish publicity programs, including selection of appropriate Spanish-language media for notices and announcements; training, recruitment, and assessment of Spanish-language proficiency of bilingual district board workers and interpreters; and managing other aspects of the program. The Coordinator shall also conduct the Spanish-Language Advisory Meetings discussed below.
16. The County shall establish a Community Outreach Group to assist and inform the Spanish-language election program. The Community Outreach Group shall be open to any interested person or organization. The County shall maintain a roster of the Community Outreach Group members together with the telephone and facsimile numbers or e-mail addresses of each member. The Community Outreach Group shall meet as it determines necessary, so long as it meets at least four times a year (before and after the primary election, and before and after the general election) to discuss any concerns directly impacting Hispanic voters. The parties may by writing adjust the Community Outreach Group's meeting schedule after consultation with the Community Outreach Group. With the assistance of the Coordinator, Defendants shall publicly notice Community Outreach Group meetings. Minutes shall be kept of such meetings, including the names of all those individuals in attendance. Defendants shall provide a copy of such minutes to each member of the Community Outreach Group and to interested members of the public who request such minutes.
17. The County shall transmit to all members of the Community Outreach Group, and to any additional member of the public who requests such information, in English and Spanish, all election information, announcements, and notices that are provided or made available to the electorate and general public, and request that they share such information with others.
18. To assist in monitoring compliance with and ensure effectiveness of this Decree, and to protect the Fourteenth Amendment rights of the citizens of Penns Grove, Salem County, the appointment of federal observers is authorized for Penns Grove, Salem County pursuant to Section 3(a) of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1973a(a), for the duration of this Decree.
19. Defendants shall recognize the authority of federal observers to observe all aspects of voting conducted in the polls on election day, including the authority to view voter assistance provided during voting, except where the voter objects.
20. The Department of Justice shall communicate with Salem County and Penns Grove regarding potential federal law violations in order to give the County and Borough the opportunity to rectify these issues.
Evaluation of Plan
21. The parties recognize that regular and ongoing reassessment may be necessary to provide the most effective and efficient Spanish-language election Program. The County shall evaluate the Spanish-language election program after each election to determine which aspects of the program are functioning well; whether any aspects need improvement; and how to affect needed improvements. The program may be adjusted at any time upon joint written agreement of the parties.
Retention of Documents and Reporting Requirements
22. Throughout the duration of this Decree, Defendants shall make and maintain written records of all actions taken pursuant to this Decree and shall produce copies of such records. Such documents, lists, and records shall be made available, upon reasonable notice, to the United States upon its request.
23. Throughout the duration of this Decree, at least 30 days before each election, Defendants shall provide to counsel for the United States the following information as it relates to Penns Grove, Salem County:
(a) the name, address, and election district designation of each polling place;
(b) the name and title of each district board worker appointed and assigned to serve at each election district;
(c) a designation of whether each district board worker is fluent in English and Spanish;
(d) copies of any signs or other written information provided at polling places;
(e) a set of all written materials to be provided to voters at the upcoming election; and
(f) a copy of the most recent voter registration list on a computer disk in a format to be agreed upon.
Within 45 days after each such election, Defendants shall provide to counsel for the United States any updated report regarding changes in these items as well as information about all complaints the County or Borough received at the election regarding language or assistance issues in Penns Grove, Salem County, by express mail or electronically to the following address:
United States Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
1800 G Street, N.W., Room NWB-7254
Washington, D.C. 20006
Facsimile: (202) 307-3961
24. This Decree is final and binding between the parties and their successors in office regarding the claims raised in this action. It shall remain in effect through March 31, 2011.
25. The Court shall retain jurisdiction of this case to enter further relief or such other orders as may be necessary for the effectuation of the terms of this agreement and to ensure compliance with Sections 2, 4(e) and 208 of the Voting Rights Act.
Agreed to this 24th day of July, 2008.
AGREED AND CONSENTED TO:
For Plaintiff: For Defendants:
MICHAEL B. MUKASEY E. Elaine Voyles
Attorney General Salem County Solicitor
GRACE CHUNG BECKER Adam Telsey
Acting Assistant Attorney General Penns Grove Borough Solicitor
Civil Rights Division
CHRISTOPHER J. CHRISTIE Donna Kelly
United States Attorney New Jersey Office of the Attorney General
SUSAN STEELE (New Jersey No. 10131415)
Chief, Civil Division
Chief, Voting Section
Special Litigation Counsel
JOSHUA L. ROGERS
United States Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20530
Telephone: (202) 305-0827
Facsimile: (202) 307-3961
Attorneys for the United States of America
PROPOSED ORDERThis Court, having considered the United States' claims under Sections 2, 4(e) and 208 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1973, 1973b(e) & 1973aa-6, and having determined that it has jurisdiction over this, has considered the terms of the Settlement Agreement, and hereby enters the relief set forth above and incorporates those terms herein.
ENTERED and ORDERED this ____ day of ________, 2008.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE >