Voting Rights Act Section 203 Cases

                           UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
                                          YAKIMA DIVISION



                                                                                    CIVIL NO.

YAKIMA COUNTY;                                           CONSENT DECREE
Yakima County Auditor;
County Commissioners.


  1. Background
    1. The United States of America initiated this action pursuant to Section
      203 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 ("Section 203"), as amended, 42 U.S.C. §
      1973aa- 1a, 1973aa-2, and 28 U.S.C. § 2201, alleging that election practices and
      procedures used by Yakima County, Washington, for Spanish-speaking citizens
      violate Section 203. The claim under Section 203 must be heard and determined
      by a court of three judges pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1973aa-2 and 28 U.S.C. § 2284.
    2. Yakima County's coverage under Section 203 is based on a
      determination by the Director of the Census that more than five (5) percent of the
      citizens of voting age in the County are members of a single language minority
      group (Spanish heritage) who do not speak or understand English well enough to
      participate effectively in the English-language election process (hereinafter
      referred to as Spanish-speaking citizens or voters), and that these persons have an
      illiteracy rate higher than the national illiteracy rate, 42 U.S.C. 1973aa-1(a).
    3. In 1976 Yakima County was designated by the Director of the Census as
      a jurisdiction subject to the requirements of Section 203 for persons of Spanish
      heritage. 41 Fed. Reg. 29,998 (July 20, 1976). In 2002, Yakima County was again
      so designated by the Director of the Census. 67 Fed. Reg. 48,871 (July 26, 2002).
    4. The United States alleges in its complaint that Yakima County is not
      fully compliant with the requirements of Section 203 for Spanish-speaking
      citizens residing in Yakima County with respect to the need to:
      1. Provide complete and accurate Spanish translations of all materials
        and information produced in English and provided to the public,
        including but not limited to, ballots, information about voter
        registration, candidate qualification procedures, voting by mail or
        absentee, voting at the polls, and voting-related information on the
        Yakima County website;
      2. Provide effective Spanish language assistance at County offices
        and polling places regarding election-related issues;
      3. Publish Spanish language materials in a timely fashion;
      4. Make Spanish language materials, information, and assistance
        available to Spanish-speaking voters; and
      5. Provide Spanish materials to those voters who need them or take
        steps to notify such Spanish-speaking voters that Spanish materials
        are available.
    5. The named defendant parties (hereinafter "Yakima County") do not
      admit to the allegations of the complaint. Yakima County, however, does share
      with the United States a mutual interest to implement procedures that will protect
      the rights of Spanish-speaking voters to participate fully in the electoral process in
      compliance with the Voting Rights Act and the United States Constitution, and
      therefore, Yakima County agrees to implement fully the terms of this consent
      decree for enforcement of all applicable laws. Accordingly, the United States and
      Yakima County consent to the entry of this Order, as indicated by the signatures of
      counsel at the end of this document. The parties waive a hearing and entry of
      findings of fact and conclusions of law on all issues involved in this matter.

    Accordingly, it is hereby ORDERED, ADJUDGED, AND DECREED
    that Yakima County, its agents, employees, contractors, successors and all other
    persons representing the interests of Yakima County are hereby ENJOINED from
    violating Section 203 by failing to provide in Spanish any "registration or voting
    notices, forms, instructions, assistance or other materials or information" that they
    provide in English. 42 U.S.C. § 1973aa-la(c). More specifically, Yakima County
    shall be required to do the following:

  2. Translation of election-related materials
    1. All "registration or voting notices, forms, instructions, assistance, or
      other materials or information relating to the electoral process, including ballots,"
      42 U.S.C. 1973aa-1a(c), provided by Yakima County shall also be provided by
      Yakima County in the Spanish language. Yakima County shall ensure that both
      English and Spanish language election information, materials, and announcements
      provided by Yakima County are made equally available.
    2. Yakima County shall translate into Spanish all election-related
      documents and information it provides in English. Such translation shall begin as
      soon as the English text is known and shall be completed so as to allow
      distribution along with the English text. To ensure the quality of translations, the
      County shall employ trained translators who are familiar with Spanish language
      election terminology to produce clear and accurate written translations. The
      County shall develop and maintain a glossary of Spanish election terminology
      using Spanish terms understandable to local Latino citizens in concert with
      bilingual members of local Latino communities.
    3. All official ballots, including absentee ballots, shall be printed
      bilingually in both English and Spanish. Any new voting system adopted by the
      County shall offer bilingual ballots or a readily apparent option of a Spanish
      ballot, and any audible version of the ballot on such machines shall be available in
      English and Spanish.
  3. Dissemination of Spanish language information.
    1. All voter registration and election notices, forms, instructions, and other
      materials available to voters in English shall also be printed in Spanish and shall
      be displayed or available in the County Auditor's Office, each polling place, and
      any other location where the County posts election-related materials on the same
      basis as English language materials and information.
    2. Yakima County shall ensure that all Spanish- and English-language
      election-related information, materials, and announcements are made equally
      available. Spanish-language information shall be distributed through newspapers,
      radio and other media that exclusively or regularly publish or broadcast
      information in Spanish. Dissemination of these announcements need not be
      identical in all respects to dissemination of English-language announcements, but
      shall be in the form, frequency, and media best calculated to achieve notice and
      understanding equal to that provided to the English-speaking population.
    3. Yakima County shall adopt a checklist identifying each Spanish-
      language and bilingual material that the County makes available to the public at
      each polling place. The checklist shall include, for each item, an attestation that
      the poll workers at the polling place posted or made available to voters such
      Spanish-language or bilingual document, or solicit a detailed written explanation
      of why individual items were not posted or available. The election inspector for
      each polling place must complete and sign this document before receiving
      payment for work in the election, subject to applicable state and federal law.
      Yakima County shall maintain a record of each failure to complete and sign the
  4. Spanish Language Assistance
    1. Trained bilingual (English/Spanish) election personnel shall be available
      to answer voting related questions by telephone without cost during normal
      business hours and while the polls are open on election days.
    2. Yakima County shall recruit, hire, and assign sufficient bilingual
      (Spanish/English) poll workers, who are able to understand, speak, read, and write
      Spanish fluently, to provide assistance to Spanish-speaking voters at the polls on
      election days. To assist in the recruitment of bilingual poll workers, the County
      shall survey its employees to identify personnel who speak Spanish 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 or be available "on
      call" to address questions or problems that may arise.
    3. As part of its obligation to ensure that entities on whose behalf the
      County conducts elections are fully compliant with Section 203 in their elections,
      the County shall request that each entity for which it conducts elections perform
      similar surveys of its employees and shall request from such entities, and maintain
      copies of, all election-related materials and information created or disseminated by
      such entities for each election. In addition, the County shall request that each
      school district or other educational entity for which the County conducts elections
      implement a program that allows and encourages selected bilingual students (as
      allowed by state law and as part of an educational program devised by such
      district) to serve as poll workers on election day for all County elections,
      including election days that fall on school days, with such students receiving
      academic credit appropriate to their service as well as all pay and benefits of poll
    4. The County shall invite eligible members of the Advisory Group,
      discussed below, to serve as paid poll workers and to encourage other bilingual
      voters to do so. The County shall publicize to the Spanish speaking community
      the option of absentee voting to the same extent it does so for English-speaking
    5. Bilingual assistance shall be provided in polling places in accordance
      with the following:
      1. In polling places where the number of Spanish surnamed
        registered voters is 150 to 299, there shall be at least one poll worker
        bilingual in Spanish and English.
      2. In polling places where the number of Spanish surnamed
        registered voters is 300 to 599, there shall be at least two poll workers
        bilingual in Spanish and English.
      3. In polling places where the number of Spanish surnamed
        registered voters is 600 to 999, there shall be at least three poll
        workers bilingual in Spanish and English.
      4. In polling places where the number of Spanish surnamed
        registered voters is over 1,000, there shall be at least four poll
        workers bilingual in Spanish and English.
      5. When assigning poll workers bilingual in Spanish and English to
        election boards at various polling places, assignment should be done
        in a manner that there will be at least one bilingual poll worker on
        each election board, whenever feasible.
      6. The parties may agree to adjust the standards in this section in
        light of information that the actual language need in a particular
        polling place is lesser or greater than that set forth above.
    6. Yakima County shall make available and train in Spanish language
      election terminology sufficient bilingual personnel who shall be on call throughout
      election day to provide language assistance to Spanish-speaking voters in person
      at any polling place in which additional language assistance is needed or where no
      bilingual poll worker is available. Such on-call staff shall be stationed in
      appropriate areas of the County, including in the City of Yakima and locations in
      the lower Yakima Valley, so as to minimize any delay for voters while the staff
      member travels to the polling place.
    7. At each training session prior to an election, in addition to any required
      state or County training, the County shall train all poll workers and other election
      personnel present at the polls on the requirements of Section 203, including
      making Spanish language assistance and materials available to voters and being
      respectful and courteous to all voters regardless of race, color, language abilities,
      or national origin. In addition to the general training for poll workers and
      interpreters, the County shall train all bilingual poll workers on Spanish language
      election terminology and how to interpret into Spanish the ballot(s), voting
      instructions, and other election-related issues. The County shall maintain a record
      of which poll workers attend training sessions, including the time, location, and
      training personnel involved.
    8. Yakima County shall post signs prominently in both English and
      Spanish at sites where voting occurs stating that Spanish language assistance is
      available. Bilingual poll workers shall be identified as such by badges. At sites
      without bilingual poll workers, signs in both English and Spanish shall be posted
      that explain how voters can obtain Spanish language assistance.
    9. Upon receipt of complaints by voters, whether oral or written, Yakima
      County shall investigate expeditiously any allegations of poll worker hostility
      toward Spanish-speaking and/or Latino voters in any election. Yakima County
      shall report the results of each investigation to the United States. Where there is
      worker(s) have engaged in inappropriate treatment of credible evidence that a poll
      Spanish-speaking and/or Latino voters, Yakima County shall remove the poll
  5. Program Coordinator
    1. The County shall employ, on a full time basis, an individual to
      coordinate the County's Bilingual Election Program ("Program Coordinator") for
      all elections within the County. The County shall provide that individual with
      transportation and other support sufficient to meet the goals of the Program. The
      Program Coordinator shall be able to understand, speak, write, and read fluently
      both Spanish and English.
    2. The Program Coordinator shall work under the supervision of the
      Yakima County Auditor to implement a bilingual election program. The Program
      Coordinator's responsibilities shall include coordination of translation of ballots
      and other election information; development of an election glossary to ensure
      uniform use of election terminology in Spanish; development and oversight of
      publicity, including selection of appropriate Spanish-language media for notices
      and announcements in Spanish and English-language print media that specifically
      serves Latino communities for announcements in English; recruitment of bilingual
      poll workers and interpreters, including assessment of their Spanish language
      proficiency; devising specific steps to provide election information to the Spanish-
      speaking community; sending staff to make presentations and answer questions at
      events and meetings sponsored by Latino community organizations; and managing
      other aspects of the Program.
  6. Advisory Group:
    1. The Program Coordinator shall establish and chair an Advisory Group to
      assist and inform the Bilingual Election Program and shall invite participation
      from all organizations listed in Attachment A, as well as other individuals and
      organizations that work with or serve the Spanish-speaking and Latino
      communities in Yakima County. Such Advisory Group shall be open to all
      interested persons.
    2. The Advisory Group shall meet at least once a month in 2004, at least
      every two months during 2005, and as the group determines is necessary in 2006.
      In these meetings, Yakima County shall solicit information on how most
      effectively to provide election materials, information, and assistance to Spanish-
      speaking voters and how to publicize the County's Spanish language election
      program. The Program Coordinator shall provide notice of all planned meetings
      to each member, including the date, time, location, and meeting agenda at least 14
      days in advance, although members of the Advisory Group may agree to waive or
      shorten this time period as necessary.
    3. Within five days after each meeting, the Program Coordinator shall
      provide a written summary of the discussion and any decisions reached at the
      meeting to all members and to the County Auditor. If the County Auditor decides
      not to implement an Advisory Group suggestion or a consensus cannot be reached
      respecting such suggestion, the Auditor shall provide to the group through the
      Program Coordinator and maintain on file a written statement of the reasons for
      rejecting such suggestion.
    4. The County shall transmit to all interested members of the advisory
      group copies, in English and Spanish, of 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 their members.
  7. Evaluation of the plan

    The parties recognize that regular and ongoing reassessment may be
    necessary in order to provide the most effective and efficient Spanish language
    program. Yakima County shall evaluate the Bilingual Election Program after each
    election cycle (e.g., following 2004 elections) to determine which aspects of the
    Bilingual Election Program are functioning well; whether any aspects need
    improvement; and how to make needed improvements. The program may be
    adjusted at any time upon written agreement of the parties.

  8. Federal Examiners and Observers:
    1. To monitor compliance with this Decree, the appointment of federal
      examiners is authorized for Yakima County pursuant to Section 3(a) of the Voting
      Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 1973a(a), through December 31, 2006.
    2. Yakima County acknowledges the authority of federal observers to
      observe all aspects of voting conducted in the polls on election day, including the
      observers' authority to view County personnel providing assistance to voters
      during voting, except where the voter objects.
  9. Retention of Documents and Reporting Requirements
    1. During the duration of this decree, the County shall make and maintain
      written records of all actions taken pursuant to this Consent Decree. Such
      documents, lists, and records shall be made available, upon reasonable notice, to
      the United States for inspection and copying.
    2. During the duration of this decree, at least ten (10) days before each
      County-administered election held in the County, Yakima County shall provide to
      counsel for the United States, the name, address, and precinct designation of each
      polling place; the name and title of each poll worker appointed and assigned to
      serve at each polling place; a designation of whether each poll worker is bilingual
      in English and Spanish; and an electronic copy of the final, official voter
      registration list to be used in each such election. Within thirty (30) days after each
      election, Yakima County 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 received at the election regarding language or assistance
      issues and the voters' registration list used in the election.
  10. Duty to Defend Consent Decree

    The parties to this Consent Decree shall employ their best efforts to defend
    this Consent Decree against any legal challenge.

  11. Jurisdiction

    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 Section 203.

  12. Termination of Consent Decree

    This agreement is final and binding between the parties and their successors
    in office regarding the claims raised in this action. This agreement shall remain in
    effect through December 31, 2006, and the United States may, within 90 days of
    that date, move to extend the decree for good cause shown, in the event of a
    violation of any provision contained herein by the County.


For Plaintiff:                                                                 For Defendants:

________/s/________________                               ________/s/________________
James A. McDevitt, United States Attorney                 Terry Austin, Esp.
William A. Beatty, Asst. United States                         County Counsel, Yakima County
Attorney and Chief, Civil Division                                County Court House, Room 329
Eastern District of Washington                                     128 North Second Street
920 West Riverside Avenue #300                                Yakima, Washington   98901
Spokane, WA 99201-1494

R. Alexander Acosta
Assistant Attorney General
Civil Rights Division

Joseph D. Rich, Chief
John Tanner, Special Litigation Counsel
Bruce I. Gear
Ana Henderson, Attorneys
Voting Section, NWB
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20530

                                JUDGMENT AND ORDER

This three-judge Court, having been properly empaneled under 28 U.S.C. §
2284 to consider the United States' claim under Section 203 of the Voting Rights
Act of 1965 (as amended), 42 U.S.C. § 1973aa-la (1992), and having determined
that it has jurisdiction over this claim, has considered the terms of the Consent
Decree, hereby enters the relief set forth above and incorporates those terms

ENTERED and ORDERED this 3rd day of September, 2004.

Susan P. Graber

Fred Van Sickle

Lonny R. Suko

Updated August 6, 2015

Was this page helpful?

Was this page helpful?
Yes No