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WASHINGTON - The Justice Department today announced the filing of a lawsuit and the settlement of its claims against Fort Bend County, Texas, alleging violations of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended, and the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).
The complaint, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, alleges that Fort Bend County failed to implement an effective bilingual election program for Spanish-speaking voters in violation of 4(f)4 of the Voting Rights Act and that the county prevented eligible voters from receiving assistance from the persons of their choice. The complaint also alleges that Fort Bend County failed to offer eligible voters in federal elections the use of provisional ballots, and it failed to provide provisional voters information on whether their provisional ballots were counted.
"The Voting Rights Act requires Fort Bend County to provide meaningful and equal electoral access to its Hispanic citizens who have limited English proficiency. HAVA allows the use of provisional ballots by registered voters who find themselves inadvertently left off voting lists and requires a free mechanism by which voters can learn whether their provisional votes were counted and, if not, the reasons why," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Loretta King for the Civil Rights Division. "I am pleased that Fort Bend County officials have agreed to measures that will protect these important rights and will put in place important electoral safeguards."
The agreement, which must still be approved by a federal court, provides for trained bilingual election officials to be available at polling places where language assistance is needed. In addition, the county will train all poll officials and other election personnel present at the polls or early voting locations regarding the language assistance requirements of the Voting Rights Act and on the provisional balloting requirements of HAVA. The agreement also permits the Justice Department to monitor future elections in Fort Bend County.
Complaints about discriminatory voting practices may be reported to 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 Justice Department Web site at http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/voting .