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York County agrees to provide more Spanish-language assistance ahead of the Nov. 8 election

  • Gabriela Martínez/WITF
CASA members hold press event to celebrate agreement with York county commissioners in 2022.

 Gabriela Martinez / WITF

CASA members hold press event to celebrate agreement with York county commissioners in 2022.

After being sued by Latino advocacy groups demanding better language access for Spanish-speaking voters, the York County Board of Elections has agreed to provide more language assistance ahead of Election Day on Nov. 8.

LatinoJustice PRLDEF had filed a lawsuit on behalf of CASA and a group of Puerto Rican voters in the county, alleging that York County does not comply with Section 4(e) of the federal Voting Rights Act, which specifically protects U.S. citizens who were educated in schools where the primary language was not English. 

The groups agreed to withdraw their preliminary injunction after the York County Board of Elections committed to fulfilling their short-term demands in time for the election. The county says it will provide bilingual sample ballots in all precincts and on the county’s website. The county also agreed to deploy around 20 election workers to work at different polling places and to put up signs that say “Vota Aqui” (Vote here) at the county’s 18 precincts that already had bilingual ballots prior to the litigation. There will also be a York county Spanish-language hotline to assist voters, as well as signs in every district directing voters to the hotline and other resources available in Spanish..

County officials also agreed to make Spanish speakers available to answer the phone at the York County Board of Elections while polls are open. There will also be training for judges of elections on the Spanish language resources that will be available to voters.

The groups celebrated the agreement with the county at the parking lot of CASA’s York office. CASA members huddled together in a group holding a large Puerto Rican flag and chanted “Si se pudo,” which means “yes, we could.

“This signifies a win because my brothers and sisters will be able to walk confidently and not deal with being excluded because they don’t know the language,” said Nilsabel Cáceres, a Puerto Rican resident of York. “I will feel confident as well and very happy to have contributed to this change.”

Cáceres moved to York after Hurricane Maria brought destruction to her homeland.  She registered to vote in the 2020 election. Before that, she had never voted in a general election in the United States. She said that when she arrived at her polling place, there were no guides in Spanish, and no one to explain the process to her in Spanish.

Cáceres, who knows English, still faced some language barriers.

“Even when you know English, it’s not the same,” Cáceres said. “When you’re doing something that important, you want to have a full comprehension of what you’re doing, and that wasn’t there.”

The lawsuit is still active. Goldsmith says CASA and LatinoJustice will meet again after the election to discuss other actions the county can take to comply with Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act. 

“We will continue to defend the efforts of our Board of Elections in future proceedings relating to this lawsuit,” Chief Clerk to the Board of Commissioners Greg Monskie wrote in the statement.

 Monskie also said that the county has always complied with the Voting Rights Act, but is collaborating with CASA to make polls more accessible to Spanish-speakers.

Maria del Carmen Gutierrez, director of membership at CASA, said she will be monitoring to ensure the county adheres to what it promised, and will be checking if the county will be providing language-assistance resources at different polling places.

There are still outstanding issues that CASA and LatinoJustice hope to revisit with the county after the election. Goldsmith says the groups would like to see Spanish-language ballots at all 161 precincts, not just sample ballots. There are other issues they are asking the county to address, related to Spanish messaging on the county’s website.

“We want to ensure that just because the county is agreeing to provide certain resources to voters on November 8, those resources don’t just disappear after November 8,” said Rayza Goldsmith, associate counsel for Latino Justice and the main attorney on the case.

The York County Spanish-language hotline can be reached at (717) 771-9641.


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