York County in settlement talks over lawsuit filed on behalf of Spanish-speaking voters

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

York County is in talks to settle a federal lawsuit filed last year by advocacy organization CASA and LatinoJustice Fund over a lack of services for Spanish-speaking voters.

That's according to a joint status report filed in December with the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania and Rayza Goldsmith, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

"When we filed that joint status report in December, we let the court know that we are actively working towards settlement negotiation," Goldsmith said. "That representation was made by both CASA and the county."

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York County Chief Clerk Greg Monskie said the county couldn't comment on active litigation, but he did add that the county was in regular contact with CASA.

CASA, a grassroots organization that advocates for Latinos and immigrants, filed the lawsuit and sought a preliminary injunction in October, seeking more services for Spanish-speaking voters in York County. Those included more bilingual poll workers as well as a Spanish-speaking person at the Board of Elections to answer questions.

After the county agreed to institute those changes, among others, the preliminary injunction was withdrawn, but the lawsuit went forward.

Goldsmith said the plaintiffs are hoping to build off those changes to ensure Spanish-speakers have the resources they need to vote.

"One thing that we see as being particularly important is bilingual sample ballots countywide," Goldsmith said. Because the county had already printed its ballots by the time it agreed to make changes, there were only 18 precincts that had bilingual sample ballots. The lawsuit seeks to expand availability.

Goldsmith said CASA and LatinoJustice want to see the county have a bilingual person in the elections office on a permanent basis, not just on Election Day.

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"There are certain communications that instruct voters to contact the Board of Elections, to cure issues with their voter registration or ask questions about where their polling place might be," Goldsmith said. "Those voters are getting a dead end when they call the Board of Elections because there's no one there who speaks Spanish."

Being able to effectively vote means being able to understand what's going on, Goldsmith said: not just being registered and showing up, but understanding what's on the ballot and being able to ask questions.

"We know from speaking to voters who are Spanish language dominant that when they try to vote in English-only elections in York County, they feel their vote wasn't fully effective or they didn't fully understand what they're doing," Goldsmith said. "For voters to be fully able to access that vote and be able to access that vote for years to come would mean everything to Spanish-speaking voters."

The two sides must update the court by Feb. 15. Goldsmith said the two sides will be negotiating and that the plaintiffs had given the county a proposal last week.

"It's not a guarantee that we will have everything squared away by Feb. 15 or even that we will reach an agreement in general, but our hope is that we will have made significant progress or even reached a tentative agreement," Goldsmith said.

— Reach Matt Enright via email at menright@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @Matthew_Enright.