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Riverside County agrees to Spanish-language voting assistance

In a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department, the county must translate ballots and provide bilingual poll workers.

February 13, 2010|By Anna Gorman

Riverside County must translate ballots and other election materials into Spanish and provide trained bilingual poll workers under a settlement agreement announced Friday by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The county also agreed to allow federal observers to monitor polling places on election days, to designate a person to coordinate the county's Spanish-language election program and to start a community outreach group.

The Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the Riverside County Registrar of Voters alleging that the officials failed to offer election-related information and assistance to Spanish-speaking voters as required under the law. The Voting Rights Act requires that counties with a significant population of Spanish-speaking residents must provide voting materials and help in both languages, according to the Justice Department.

"It is critical that anybody not have language barriers to exercise their right to vote," said Alejandro Miyar, spokesman for the Department of Justice. "Today's agreement allows for a comprehensive plan that will approve the ability for Spanish-language speakers to participate."

Riverside County spokesman Ray Smith said the county has had programs in place for years to assist Spanish-speaking voters. He said the settlement is a way to conclude the litigation in the "spirit of cooperation."

"We will continue to improve those programs to meet the needs and requirements not only of our voters but of the federal government," Smith said. "We will continue working to serve every voter in Riverside County."

Since 2002, the Justice Department has been notifying the county of its obligations under federal law, according to court documents. In 2008, federal observers were posted at polling places.

The next year, the department notified the county that it planned to file a lawsuit, which resulted in settlement discussions.

The settlement will remain in place until 2013.

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