Friday, September 21, 2007
U.S. Settles Voting Rights Lawsuit With City of Walnut
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
The U.S. Justice Department and the City of Walnut disclosed yesterday that they had settled a lawsuit that alleged the city violated the rights of Chinese- and Korean-speaking voters under the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The settlement, which must now be approved by a panel of three judges, will require the city to provide all voting materials and assistance in Chinese and Korean, as well as English, and to permit federal observers to be present during future elections to monitor compliance, the department said.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Rena J. Comisac of the Civil Rights Division said in a statement:
“By agreeing to implement a comprehensive and effective remedial plan, the city of Walnut’s officials have demonstrated a genuine commitment to addressing past problems and protecting the voting rights and ballot access of all American citizens.”
The Justice Department initiated the suit on April 12 when it filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California alleging that the city failed to meet its legal responsibilities under Sec. 203 of the Voting Rights Act to provide voters with Chinese- and Korean-language translations of materials and information relating to the electoral process, including registration and voting notices, forms, instructions, assistance, and ballots.
The section, which was added to the act in 1975, requires certain jurisdictions to make language assistance available for citizens with limited English proficiency.
The complaint named the city, the City Council, the Office of the Walnut City Manager, and City Clerk Teresa De Dios as defendants, and claimed that Sec. 203 required the city to provide the information in Chinese and Korean pursuant to a designation by the U.S. Census Bureau that the section applied to Los Angeles County and its political subdivisions.
The complaint cited census figures that 21.9% of Walnut’s voting age citizens were Chinese and 5.4% were Korean, and that 65.3% of the city’s Chinese voting age residents and 62.3% of Korean voting age residents had limited English proficiency.
The Justice Department said that the county and its subdivisions have been continuously required to provide all electoral information and materials in Chinese since September 1992, and in Korean since July 2002. It also said that Sec. 203’s requirements extend to speakers of Filipino, Japanese, Spanish and Vietnamese as well.
In its request for relief, the Justice Department asserted that the city would continue to violate Sec. 203 in future elections unless enjoined from doing so by the court. The department asked for an order directing the city to develop and implement a remedial plan to ensure that limited-English proficient Chinese and Korean citizens are able to participate in all phases of the electoral process, and sought authorization for the appointment of federal election monitors.
The department told the MetNews that the lawsuit was the first of its kind ever filed by the Civil Rights Division on behalf of Korean American voters.
In a statement announcing the settlement, Walnut Mayor Thomas Sykes praised the agreement, and thanked the Justice Department for bringing the claim that voters were not being provided with all lawfully required information to the city’s attention.
“The Department of Justice and the City of Walnut crafted an Agreement for future elections that will greatly improve the election process for all ethnicities wishing to participate in local elections,” he said.
Sykes said that he hoped that the agreement would serve as a model for communities with similar diversity.
Eugene P. Lee, counsel for the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, said that he expects the settlement will only impact municipal elections, as statewide elections are conducted by the Los Angeles Registrar Recorder/County-Clerk.
Although his organization was not a party to the suit, Lee said that settlement agreements of the type announced often contain strong positive provisions, and maintained that continued vigorous enforcement of the Voting Rights Act was necessary to ensure that voters received adequate language assistance.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company