Spanish-speaking voters will have election assistance in their native language

RI Latino News

In preparation for the September 10 primary, the city of Pawtucket has committed to offering election assistance and materials in Spanish for Spanish-speaking voters. This initiative follows a consent agreement submitted in the U.S. District Court of Rhode Island last month in response to accusations that Pawtucket election officials did not provide adequate support in Spanish to voters with limited English proficiency, a violation of Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act.

Section 203 mandates that certain jurisdictions, including Pawtucket, offer election resources and aid in languages other than English. The legal complaint further claims that Pawtucket and city election officials denied qualified individuals the opportunity to cast provisional ballots and did not adequately train poll workers on the requirements for provisional ballots, contravening Section 302 of the Help America Vote Act.

“Language barriers should never prevent an eligible voter from being able to fully participate in the democratic process,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in a press release. “Providing bilingual materials and language assistance for those who are limited English proficient will ensure that these citizens have a meaningful opportunity to participate in our democracy. We will continue to confront any barriers that stand between voters and the ability to cast their vote.”

The Hispanic population in Rhode Island is increasing, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Census. In July 2022, approximately 17.6% of the population self-identified as Hispanic or Latino, reflecting a rise of nearly 24,500 individuals, equating to a 13% increase from the 2020 Census. As of January 2024, the Department of Justice reported that Pawtucket had a total of 45,254 active registered voters, with 9,961 individuals, or 22%, having Spanish surnames.

“The right to vote is the right on which all others depend,” said U.S. Attorney Zachary A. Cunha for the District of Rhode Island. “This office will remain vigilant in enforcing our civil rights laws to ensure that illegal barriers to access do not keep Americans from casting their ballots. I am grateful for our continued partnership with the Civil Rights Division on this case and commend the City of Pawtucket for taking action to ensure that these issues are addressed.”

Subject to court approval, the agreement mandates the establishment of a thorough Spanish-language elections program in Pawtucket. In essence, this entails that Pawtucket will:

  • Provide all election-related information in both English and Spanish, including information in the polling places and online. 
  • Ensure that in-person language assistance is available at all early voting sites and at each election precinct on Election Day. 
  • Provides that all voters who are registered to vote have a right to cast a provisional ballot if their name is not found on the registration list. 
  • Be under federal observation so as to ensure the city’s compliance with the agreement and federal law. 

More information about voting and elections is available on the Justice Department’s website at www.justice.gov/voting.

Learn more about the Voting Rights Act and other federal voting laws at www.justice.gov/crt/voting-section.

Complaints about possible violations of federal voting rights laws can be submitted through the Civil Rights Division’s website at civilrights.justice.gov or by telephone at 1-800-253-3931. Individuals can also contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Rhode Island either by emailing usari.civilrightscomplaint@usdoj.gov or by calling (401)-709-5010.