DOJ Secures Spanish Language Voting Assistance in Rhode Island 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Voters in Pawtucket, Rhode Island will have increased access to Spanish-language assistance and provisional ballots after the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) entered an agreement with the city requiring it to develop a comprehensive Spanish language voting program. 

“Language barriers should never prevent an eligible voter from being able to fully participate in the democratic process” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a press release on Thursday. 

According to the DOJ,  24.8% of Pawtucket’s residents and 22.4% of the voting age population are Hispanic.  It is estimated that  2,903 Spanish-speaking voting-age citizens in Pawtucket are limited English proficient.

Yesterday, the DOJ filed a lawsuit against the city alleging that Pawtucket failed to comply with Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act which requires that certain jurisdictions provide Spanish language election materials and assistance to voters with limited English proficiency. 

The DOJ’s lawsuit alleged that the city did not recruit enough bilingual Spanish-speaking poll workers to provide Spanish-speaking voters with limited English proficiency with assistance and did not provide the necessary election-related materials in Spanish. 

The lawsuit also argued that Pawtucket failed to comply with the provisional ballot requirements required by the Help America Vote Act by refusing to allow individuals who were qualified to cast a provisional ballot to do so and failing to train and instruct poll officials correctly regarding the requirements for provisional ballots. 

The same day as the DOJ filed its complaint, the city was able to reach an agreement with the Justice Department. The agreement, which must be approved by the court, requires the implementation of a comprehensive Spanish-language elections program. In practice, this means 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. 

This agreement between the city and the government will ensure that voters will have access to the ballot box regardless of English proficiency. 

Read the proposed consent decree here. 

Learn more about the case here.