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While litigation is pending, Latino Justice scored a short-term legal victory to provide Latinos with expanded Spanish-language access at polling sites in York County. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images.

Latinos will have access to Spanish-language voting materials in several York precincts

Following a lawsuit leveled by Latino voting advocacy groups, the York County board of elections committed to a series of changes at polling sites.

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Spanish-speaking voters in York County may feel a sense of voting relief after the York County board of elections committed this week to provide Spanish-language materials and support in several precincts ahead of the midterm elections. 

York County’s decision to incorporate expanded access to Spanish-language materials at poll sites follows a lawsuit raised by Latino Justice — a Legal Defense Fund — on behalf of CASA for all, a Latino advocacy organization. 

The County’s commitment to expanded access includes a broad swath of changes to inclusive voting operations — including Spanish-language sample ballots, an interpreter available by phone from 7 a.m. - 8 p.m., and as many as 20 bilingual poll workers who will be deployed to assist in a number of precincts, given limitations around where a volunteer is able to intervene. 

In addition to the changes at poll sites, Rayza Goldsmith, associate counsel with Latino Justice, added that the county will post signage in Spanish directing Latino voters to available resources at all precincts. 

Judges of elections will be briefed ahead of Election Day to more adequately support voters in ascertaining the now available resources. 

“We are thrilled,” said Goldsmith. “We’re really pleased that the County committed to almost all of the relief that we asked for (...) by Nov. 8,” she added. 

“This is going to be really huge for Spanish-speaking voters.”

CASA announced the County’s commitment to its Puerto Rican population to expand language access on Wednesday, Nov. 2., as announced by Goldsmith, also a civil rights attorney. 

Latino Justice’s lawsuit included a preliminary injunction seeking the immediate inclusion of voting materials in Spanish, which resolves the issue short term, in time for Nov. 8. 

“The County has agreed to much of what we asked for by Nov. 8, but there are some things that we will be looking to resolve after,” Goldsmith underlined. 

While the County agreed to immediate relief, the lawsuit, Goldsmith said, remains active. 

Responding to why the County agreed to short term solutions, Goldsmith hesitated to speculate, but she said it’s “in the best interest of the County to that every voter who’s registered in York County to actually [and] effectively cast their ballot.” 

But as the matter makes its way through the courts, Latino voters in York celebrated. 

“I didn’t vote until I was 70 years old,” said José Ortíz Torres, a York resident and member of CASA. Torres remembers casting his first ballot in 2020 thanks to CASA and how poll workers were unable to assist him in his native language. 

Torres was grateful to be bilingual, but was aware that many in his community were not. 

“It makes me very uncomfortable that polling sites don’t have access in Spanish for people who don’t speak [English]. It’s very difficult for us to vote under those conditions,” Torres noted. 

Also among the hopefuls was Nisabel Cáceres, a Puerto Rican woman and York resident who left the island after Hurricane María ravaged her hometown of Guayama in 2018. In 2020, she decided to cast her ballot after meeting CASA staffers who, Cáceres said, reminded her of the importance of voting.

“To my surprise, there were no guides in Spanish or information that explained how to vote effectively,” Cáceres recalled. “I know English, but Spanish is my native tongue. It’s how I feel comfortable voting for candidates who can represent us with dignity,” she added. 

“This is justice because is protects the voices of every single person who is going to go to the polls and not maybe understand everything in English, but will now have access to their right to vote in the language in which thy feel more comfortable,” Goldsmith said.

She went on to say the complaint would not have been possible “without CASA members sharing their stories and courageously coming forward with experiences that are often really humiliating and dehumanizing.”

The lawsuit, according to Latino Justice’s complaint, alleged that York County was not in compliance with Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in failing to require Spanish-language ballots, among other materials for Puerto Rican voters residing in York, just weeks away from Election Day. 

Given this proximity, a district judge ordered oral arguments to be heard a week after the initial teleconference took place, when the motion was filed. But in lieu of a court appearance, the County agreed to “provide much of the relief [CASA] requested (...) at that point, the County and CASA engaged their counsel” to reach a preliminary agreement. 

CASA initially reached out to the County in August via a letter after years of collecting grievances from York’s Latino community of instances where they didn’t feel confident when voting, given the lack of materials and support. 

The County had initially declined to continue conversations with CASA which prompted the original complaint from Latino Justice and a private legal practice. 

“If you speak up and share your story it will have a tangible impact on your community,” Goldsmith said. 

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