In Brief

Union County to print Spanish ballots after feds allege Voting Rights Act violations

By: - May 9, 2023 4:25 pm

A federal complaint charged the county violated provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act that guarantees language access. (Daniella Heminghaus for New Jersey Monitor)

Union County will be required to print ballots in English and Spanish under the terms of a consent decree the Justice Department announced Tuesday.

The consent decree follows a complaint lodged by federal prosecutors that alleged the county breached provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act requiring that bilingual ballots be printed in any voting jurisdiction where residents with limited English proficiency account for more than 5% of the voting population. The county also violated portions of the law requiring access for those with disabilities, prosecutors allege.

“Language barriers should never prevent an eligible voter from being able to freely participate in the democratic process,” Kristen Clarke, the U.S. assistant attorney general for civil rights, said in a statement.

According to Census Bureau data, Hispanic residents account for 23% of the county’s voting population, and that group includes nearly 28,000 Spanish speakers with limited English proficiency.

Under the consent decree, which must still be approved by the courts, the county would be required to print all election materials in English and Spanish and ensure the presence of in-person Spanish language assistance in districts where at least 100 registered voters have Spanish surnames.

Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi, who appeared to welcome the consent decree, said the county had already been sending bilingual ballots to roughly half of the county’s 21 municipalities.

“I’m really happy about it because there are people in those other towns that probably need bilingual ballots,” she said. “We have a very diverse population in Union County, so I see it as giving more accessibility and information to people.”

The suit also charged the county denied voters who knew limited English from receiving assistance from the person of their choice, as required by the Voting Rights Act.

Union County has agreed to let voters choose who assists them, so long as the latter individual is not an agent of their employer or union.

“Through the agreement entered today, we ensure that no one is denied this sacred right simply because they are a Spanish speaker,” U.S. Attorney Philip Sellinger said in a statement.


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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.