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Press Release

Justice Department Reaches Agreement with the City of Pawtucket to Resolve Voting Discrimination Claims in Rhode Island

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Rhode Island
Agreement Includes Comprehensive Spanish-Language Election Program to Assist Voters with Limited English Proficiency

PROVIDENCE, RI – The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Rhode Island and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division announced today that the United States has entered into a proposed consent decree with the City of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and city election officials, to settle a voting rights lawsuit, announced United States Attorney Zachary A. Cunha and Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

The proposed consent decree was filed in federal court in Rhode Island in conjunction with a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Civil Rights Division. The lawsuit alleges that Pawtucket failed to provide election assistance and materials in Spanish for Spanish-speaking voters with limited English proficiency, in violation of Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 203 requires that certain jurisdictions, including Pawtucket, provide election materials and assistance in other languages, in addition to English. The lawsuit also alleges that Pawtucket and city election officials refused to allow individuals who were qualified to cast a provisional ballot to do so, and failed to train and instruct poll workers accurately and adequately regarding the requirements for provisional ballots, all in violation of Section 302 of the Help America Vote Act.

Under the proposed consent decree, which is subject to approval by a special three-judge court in the U.S. District Court of Rhode Island, the City of Pawtucket and Board of Canvassers will provide all election-related information in both English and Spanish, including information displayed in polling places and online. The City will also ensure that in-person language assistance is available at all early voting sites and at each election precinct with at least 100 Spanish-surnamed registered voters. In addition, the consent decree provides that the City will provide specific training for poll workers. The City will recruit bilingual poll workers and provide training to all bilingual poll workers on Spanish language election terminology, how to provide effective language assistance, and voting instructions. The City will train all poll workers on the provisional ballot requirements under Section 302. The consent decree also provides that federal observers may monitor election day activities in polling places in Pawtucket.

 “The right to vote is the right on which all others depend.” said U.S. Attorney Zachary A. Cunha, “and this Office will remain vigilant in enforcing our civil rights laws to ensure that illegal barriers to access do not keep Americans from casting their ballots. I am grateful for our continued partnership with the Civil Rights Division on this case, and commend the City of Pawtucket for taking action to ensure that these issues are addressed.”

“Language barriers should never prevent an eligible voter from being able to fully participate in the democratic process,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Providing bilingual materials and language assistance for those who are limited English proficient will ensure that these citizens have a meaningful opportunity to participate in our democracy. We will continue to confront any barriers that stand between voters and the ability to cast their vote.” 

More information about the Voting Rights Act and other federal voting rights laws are available on the Justice Department’s website at https://www.justice.gov/crt/voting-section. Individuals may file voting rights complaints with the Civil Rights Division either online here or may call (800)253-3931. Individuals may also contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Rhode Island either by emailing usari.civilrightscomplaint@usdoj.gov or by calling (401)709-5010.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy R. Romero from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Rhode Island, and Deputy Chief Timothy Mellett and Trial Attorney Maria Rios of the Voting Section in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

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Contact

Jim Martin

(401) 709-5357

Updated May 23, 2024

Topic
Civil Rights
Press Release Number: 24-59