Thursday, January 17, 2008

Westchester County continues to violate the Voting Rights Act

In 2005, Westchester County entered into a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice in connection with its failure to adhere to the Voting Rights Act and the Help America Vote Act. As summarized by the U.S. District Court, "In particular, the Consent Decree addressed allegations that Westchester County had failed to comply with the provisions of the VRA that mandate language accommodations for non-English speaking citizens. Among other things, the Consent Decree permitted DOJ to monitor elections throughout Westchester County."

The consent decree was extended on December 31, 2007. In an order signed by Judges Barrington Parker, John Koeltl and Kenneth Karas, the court determined:

The record before the Court demonstrates that Westchester County has made notable progress in the years since the Consent Decree was entered. However, 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. Therefore, the Court grants the Government's request to expend the Consent Decree until December 31, 2008.

The written decision extending the consent decree does not explain how exactly Westchester County has failed to live up to its obligations under the Voting Rights Act. A look at the materials submitted to the Court by the Department of Justice shows that, among other violations, the County used election workers who were not sufficiently trained in assisting Spanish-speaking voters, and officials failed to provide these voters with the proper materials necessary for voting. Some poll workers expressed hostility towards Spanish-speaking voters, openly wondering why they did not learn English. One election worker called an Hispanic family "pains in the ass."

The decision in United States v. Westchester County is reported at 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 95370 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 31, 2007).

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