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Latino civil rights groups file lawsuit against York County for language barriers in voting

The lawsuit cites the county's failure to provide Spanish-language materials and assistance as required by the Voting Rights Act.
Credit: WPMT

YORK COUNTY, Pa. — A Latino civil rights group filed a lawsuit against York County today for lack of Spanish-language services in elections. 

LatinoJustice PRLDEF and Dechert LLP filed a complaint on Oct. 19 in a federal district court on behalf of CASA and Puerto Rican voters with the Board of Elections in York County. 

The lawsuit cites the county's failure to provide Spanish-language materials and assistance as required by the Voting Rights Act. 

Three weeks before the Nov. 8 midterm elections, with several important statewide and federal races in Pa., the groups are demanding that the Board of Elections honor its obligation to provide Spanish-language ballots, election materials and assistance to voters within the county. 

The lawsuit is also seeking a preliminary injunction ordering the Board of Elections to provide Spanish sample ballots and signage and training for poll workers on the rights of Spanish-language voters. 

According to a press release, the Spanish-language ballots and education material would remove English-only barriers for hundreds of Puerto Ricans living in York County. 

When I lived and voted in Puerto Rico, I always voted in Spanish,” said Juan Ortiz Torres, a York County resident who is a member of CASA. “When I voted in York County, it’s all in English, and no one seemed to know how to help Spanish speakers. I deserve the chance to understand my vote just like any other eligible voter.”

“By failing to adequately provide Spanish-language election materials to its voters, York County has failed to comply with protections put in place by the Voting Rights Act,” said Julia Chapman, litigation partner at Dechert LLP. 

“This action aims to correct that failure. We remain committed to ensuring that all eligible voters have a true opportunity to effectively participate in our elections," Chapman continued. 

Prior to filing the complaint, CASA sent a letter to the York County Board of Elections on Sept. 14, demanding that they provide Spanish-language materials and assistance for the Nov. 8 elections. 

According to the group, they received no response. Subsequent letters from counsel demanding specific, reasonable changes to improve language access were met with the refusal to act by county officials, according to CASA. 

According to Census figures, there are over 39,000 Latinos living in York County, about 8.6% of the county’s total population. 

Over 14,000 of these residents are of Puerto Rican descent, and 750 of them reported to the Census that they do not speak English well or at all, meaning that they cannot speak or understand English adequately enough to participate in the electoral process.

“In the past few years, we have received testimonies from dozens of CASA members who grew up in Puerto Rico and have found it difficult to exercise their right to vote,” said Maria del Carmen Gutierrez, CASA’s senior director of membership.  

“At a moment when it’s key for us to encourage increased voter participation, making the process easier for voters should be a no-brainer," said Gutierrez.

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