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WASHINGTON — The Justice Department announced today a settlement with Cuyahoga County, Ohio, to protect the rights of Spanish-speaking Puerto Rican voters under Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act. Today’s agreement is intended to resolve concerns that limited English proficient Puerto Rican voters were being denied their full voting rights because of inadequate language assistance.
Under the agreement, the parties agreed to phase in additional bilingual poll workers and new bilingual sample ballots for the county’s primary election on Sept. 7, 2010. The agreement also provides for bilingual ballots in targeted precincts for the Nov. 2, 2010, general election, and bilingual ballots county-wide thereafter. In addition, the agreement includes the creation of a community-based Spanish-language advisory committee, which will include participation and feedback from the local Puerto Rican community. The parties have also agreed that federal observers may monitor Election Day activities in polling places in Cuyahoga County. The department will provide ongoing information to the county’s board of elections. Their settlement agreement will be filed in federal court and is subject to the approval of the court.
“The right to vote is the foundation of our democracy,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “Today’s agreement requiring bilingual ballots will ensure that Spanish-speaking voters receive the help they need to cast their votes effectively, with complete understanding of the ballot.”
“I’d like to thank those officials in Cuyahoga County whose dedication and commitment to voting rights has made this resolution possible,” U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio Steven M. Dettelbach said. “Protecting the voting rights of our citizens is part of the core mission of the Department of Justice as well as this U.S. Attorney’s Office.”
Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act requires that jurisdictions with significant Puerto Rican populations cannot deny an individual’s voting rights based on their ability to read, write, understand or interpret any election matter in English. The 2000 Census found that more than 30,000 persons of Puerto Rican descent resided in Cuyahoga County and that more than 6,000 were voting age and limited-English proficient.
To file complaints about discriminatory voting practices, voters may call the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division at 1-800-253-3931. More information about the Voting Rights Act and other federal voting rights laws is available on the Justice Department website at www.justice.gov/crt/voting/index.htm.