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DOJ Coalition Letter 083112

DOJ Coalition Letter 083112

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Published by: masslive on Sep 05, 2012
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 August 31, 2012Thomas E. PerezAssistant Attorney GeneralU.S. Department of Justice950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NWWashington DC 20530-0001Chris HerrenChief, Voting Section Civil Rights DivisionRoom 7254 – NWBU.S. Department of Justice950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NWWashington DC 20530
Dear Mr. Perez and Mr. Herren,SUMMARYThis letter is in reference to the U. S. Department of Justice’s investigation of VotingRights Act violations in Springfield, MA which began in November 2011. A coalition ofcommunity leaders and experts have invested significant effort into this investigation,and based on regular communication with the DOJ attorney assigned to this case, webelieve a significant amount of evidence has been systematically collected by DOJ andformally reported internally.As we have no reason to believe, at this point, that there will be any improvements inSpringfield for this year’s election season, this coalition respectfully requests that theDOJ conclude its investigation with some type of announcement of findings or actionsteps. We understand the historic demands on the DOJ right now, and we profoundlyappreciate the DOJ’s diligent work in Springfield thus far and nationally. But we alsostrongly feel that this investigation deserves some type of closure or follow up in time toensure rights are protected during the upcoming elections.
 BACKGROUNDThis investigation was a response to a formal appeal to the DOJ from a coalition ofcommunity leaders and experts including:
Ward 1 City Councilor Zaida Luna
Springfield NAACP President Reverend Talbert Swan
The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights
ACLU of Massachusetts.Copies of the original appeals (and attachments) from these people/organizations to theDOJ are enclosed here.In response to this appeal, the DOJ sent a team to monitor the general municipalelection on November 8, 2011 in Springfield. Based on regular contact with a DOJattorney, we understand that the DOJ’s scope of work included three things:1)
Monitoring compliance with the Federal Voting Rights Act on election day (Nov.8);2)
Investigating violations of the Federal Voting Rights Act during the preliminaryelection on September 20, 2011;3)
Investigating compliance with the 2006 settlement order resulting from the DOJ’slegal action against the City in 2006 for violation of the Voting Rights ActWe understand that the DOJ collected a significant amount of evidence via directobservation and in-person discussions at polling places; interaction with the citysolicitor, election commissioner, and other city hall employees; and follow-up phoneinterviews with voters.The Federal Voting Act Violations we are aware of based on our own observations andevidence provided to us by voters include:
Polling places not opening on time
No bilingual poll workers at some polling places
City hall providing inaccurate poll hours
Voters being systematically denied provisional ballots when problems arise (evenwhen they are specifically requested)
ID being required when it should not be
And in at least one case, a voter being handed a ballot with the incumbentmayor’s name already checked off (a copy of the exact ballot is enclosed).Related to the 2006 settlement order, we have provided evidence to the DOJ that inOctober 2011 the City was out of compliance with the settlement order in several areas.
Furthermore, we provided evidence to the DOJ that there are several elements of theorder that the City was never in compliance with, and that the City may havemisrepresented their compliance status to the DOJ.Finally, we are also motivated by egregious and persistent
de facto 
voter participationinequality in Springfield:
 We have already shared the details and documentation related to all of these issueswith the DOJ. We do not know what additional issues the DOJ itself has discovered.CONCLUSIONThe members of this coalition of community leaders and experts respectfully requestthat the DOJ conclude its investigation with some type of public announcement offindings or action steps, and that it do so in time to help ensure rights are protectedduring the upcoming elections.Thank you again for your diligent effort. We remain available to help in any way we can.Yours,Zaida LunaWard 1 City CouncilorSpringfield, MA413-433-8816Reverend Talbert W. Swan, IIPresident, Springfield Branch NAACPSpringfield, MA413-221-2647talbertswan@naacpspringfield.orgSarah Wunsch, Staff AttorneyACLU of Massachusetts
211 Congress Street, 3rd Floor

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