Federal Panel Orders Extension of Consent Decree With Westchester County To Protect Spanish-Speaking Voters

LAWFUEL – Legal Newswire – MICHAEL J. GARCIA, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that a three-judge
federal panel granted an application by the United States to extend
a Consent Decree with Westchester County through December 31, 2008,
to ensure that Spanish-speaking voters will receive bilingual
assistance at the polls.

In January 2005, the United States filed a civil lawsuit
against Westchester County, alleging in its Complaint that
Westchester County had failed to comply with the Voting Rights Act
(“VRA”) and the Help America Vote Act (“HAVA”). Under the VRA,
Westchester County is required to provide Spanish-language election
information and assistance to Spanish-speaking citizens in the
County with limited English proficiency. The United States also
alleged that Westchester County had failed to fully comply with
HAVA by failing to post information regarding provisional ballots.

In July 2005, the United States and Westchester County
entered into a Consent Decree, approved by a panel of three federal
judges in the Southern District of New York, which required
Westchester County to implement a comprehensive remedial plan aimed
at ensuring that it complies fully with the Voting Rights Act and
the Help America Vote Act in all future countywide elections for
state and federal offices. Among other things, the Consent Decree
required the County to do the following:

• provide in Spanish all information about the
electoral process that the County provides in
English;
• hire and train sufficient numbers of bilingual poll
workers to assist the County’s Spanish-speaking
citizens at the polls on election day;
• post at each polling place all information required
by HAVA in both English and Spanish ; and
• ensure that citizens whose names do not appear on
the official list of eligible voters in a
particular polling place, but who otherwise desire
to vote and declare that they are eligible to vote
in an election for Federal office, will be
permitted to cast provisional ballots.

The Consent Decree was originally in effect only through
August 7, 2007, because at the time of the Consent Decree the
Voting Rights Act was due to expire on that date. Congress renewed
the Voting Rights Act in 2006, however, and the United States
subsequently moved to extend the term of the Consent Decree to
December 31, 2008, based in part upon Westchester County’s failure
to fully comply with the terms of the Consent Decree. A motion to
extend was permitted under the terms of the Consent Decree for
“good cause.” Westchester County opposed the United States’
motion, seeking to terminate the Consent Decree.

By Opinion and Order filed January 3, 2008, a three-judge
panel granted the United States’ application to extend the Consent
Decree, ruling that “while Westchester County has made marked
improvements in complying with the provisions of the VRA and HAVA,
the Government has successfully met its burden of showing ‘good
cause’ for an extension of the Consent Decree, based on
demonstrable examples of non-compliance with the VRA and HAVA, and
the need to monitor Westchester County’s compliance for two full
general election cycles.”

As a result of the Court’s order, the Consent Decree will
remain in effect through December 31, 2008, and federal observers
will be present in Westchester County through that date to ensure
that Westchester County complies with its obligations under the
Voting Rights Act and HAVA.

Mr. GARCIA stated: “We look forward to working with
Westchester County to ensure that all voters, including those with
limited English proficiency, have full access to our electoral
process throughout this presidential election year, as required by
law.”

Assistant United States Attorney DAVID J. KENNEDY and
Department of Justice Trial Attorney TIMOTHY F. MELLETT are in
charge of the case.
Additional information about the Voting Rights Act and
other federal voting laws is available on the Department of Justice
website at www.usdoj.gov/crt/voting/index.htm.
08-04 ###

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