GETTING UNCLE SAM TO ENFORCE YOUR CIVIL RIGHTS
WHEN AND WHERE TO FILE A COMPLAINT—VOTING
Federal laws prohibit discrimination in voting practices on the basis of race, color, previous condition of servitude, sex, disability, being a member of a language minority, or age if you are 18 years of age or older. The prohibition because of race or color is directed against the United States, state and local governments, and private organizations such as political parties. Your right to vote in general interest elections cannot be restricted by classifications on grounds other than residence, age, and citizenship, unless the classification serves a compelling state interest. General interest elections involve the voting on important governmental functions, such as imposition of property or sales taxes, maintenance of streets, operation of schools (including school board elections), and providing of sanitation, health, or welfare services.
The imposition by a state or voting district of a voting qualification, a prerequisite for registration or voting, or some other standard, practice, or procedure based on race, color, or membership in a language minority group that results in a denial of your right to vote or to participate in the processes leading to a nomination or election is forbidden by federal laws. It is also forbidden to have as a prerequisite for voting that you demonstrate the ability to read, write, understand, or interpret any matter, demonstrate any educational achievement or knowledge of any particular subject, or possess good moral character. If you cannot read or write, voting officials are required to permit you to receive assistance from a person of your choice so that you can vote.
States may require you to provide some information, including identification information such as race, in order to determine your eligibility to vote and prevent voter fraud. A state may take away your right to vote if you are a convicted felon, but only as long as the purpose of the rule is not to disenfranchise you as a member of a minority group.
The federal government requires that a voter registration application be provided simultaneously with an application for, or renewal of, a driver’s license or other personal identification document issued by a state motor vehicle authority. States are also required to provide registration materials by mail and in all public libraries, public schools, unemployment offices, Armed Forces recruitment offices, state offices that provide public assistance, and state-funded programs primarily engaged in providing services to those with disabilities.
A federal write-in absentee ballot is provided to overseas citizens who do not receive a regular ballot from a state or territory if the request was received at least 30 days before the election.
If you are a member of a language minority and unable to participate effectively in English language elections, your state or voting district must provide you with registration and voting notices, forms, instructions, assistance, and other materials and information relating to the electoral process, including ballots, in English and in your language if your county has been determined to satisfy criteria contained in the minority language provisions of the Voting Rights Act.
As a safeguard against discrimination, jurisdictions covered under the special provisions of the Voting Rights Act must seek approval from either the Attorney General or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia before making changes in voting practices or procedures. Also, the Attorney General is authorized to request that federal observers be sent to such jurisdictions to monitor polling place activities on Election Day.
If you think you were discriminated against when you tried to vote or register to vote, immediately complain to local voting officials, and contact the nearest United States Attorney’s Office or write to the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice at the address below. You should also complain if you were discriminated against in campaigning for office, or when you took part in a political meeting, signed up other voters, or served as an election official or poll watcher, or if you think a change in local voting laws has a discriminatory purpose or effect.
The Voting Section also safeguards the right to vote of the disabled and illiterate persons, overseas citizens, persons who change their residence shortly before a presidential election, and persons 18 or older discriminated against because of their age. The U.S. Attorney General may bring a civil action in federal district court to enforce your right to vote. As a private individual, you may also bring a civil action to remedy discriminatory behavior.
To file a voting complaint with the Department of Justice, write to:
U.S. Department of
Civil Rights Division
Voting Rights Section
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530
Fax: (202) 307-3961
TTY: (202) 514-0716