JUSTICE DEPARTMENT SIGNS AGREEMENT WITH HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS TO PROTECT THE RIGHTS OF VIETNAMESE-SPEAKING VOTERS

JUSTICE DEPARTMENT SIGNS AGREEMENT WITH HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS TO PROTECT THE RIGHTS OF VIETNAMESE-SPEAKING VOTERS

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Justice Department today announced the signing

and approval of an agreement reached with Harris County, Texas to protect the

rights of Vietnamese-speaking voters. The memorandum of understanding and

agreement details the countys responsibilities in providing qualified

minority-language voters full access to the voting process.

The agreement was signed by the countys chief election official, Harris

County Clerk Beverly Kaufman and approved today by the Harris County

Commission.

This agreement underscores our commitment to protecting the rights of

minority-language citizens, said Mr. Acosta. Active participation in the

political process binds us more fully as a nation. I commend Harris County and

Ms. Kaufman for their cooperation.

In July 2002, the Census Bureau determined that Harris County has nearly

17,000 voting age United States citizens who speak Vietnamese. Section 203 of

the Voting Rights Act requires jurisdictions with a substantial

minority-language voter population to provide voting materials in that

language.

After the county had difficulty fulfilling their obligations towards

Vietnamese-speaking voters, Civil Rights Division attorneys monitored the

countys 2003 elections and identified the specific problems they faced. The

agreement provides specific steps to be taken by the county to remedy these

problems. These solutions were crafted with the close cooperation and

recommendations of county officials, including Ms. Kaufman.

The steps the county will take under the agreement include the following:

– hire an individual to coordinate the countys Vietnamese language election

program;

– provide all voter registration and election information and materials,

including the voting machine ballot, in Vietnamese, as well as English and

Spanish;

– establish a broad-based election advisory group to make recommendations and

assist in election publicity, voter education and other aspects of the

language program; and

– train poll officials in election procedures and applicable federal voting

rights law.

Section 203 also applies to all political subdivisions and units within Harris

County.

Accordingly, the Agreement also requires the cooperation of all cities, school

districts and other entities in Harris County that contract with the County to

conduct their elections. The Agreement is flexible to meet the evolving needs

of Harris County voters. The Civil Rights Division will remain involved to

provide insight and technical assistance.

The effort in Harris County is a part of the Civil Rights Divisions broader

effort to ensure full and fair access to the ballot for all voters. The

Division has reached out to each of the 80 jurisdictions newly covered by

Section 203 to make sure that they are aware of their obligations. Also, the

Division has worked with each state and covered territory to implement the

federal election reform requirements of the Help America Vote Act of 2002.