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U.S. Seeks Monitors at Polls in Philly

October 19, 2006

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ The federal government has asked a judge to post monitors at city polling places next month to make sure Spanish speakers get proper help when voting.

In a federal lawsuit, the Justice Department accused the city of failing to provide enough election materials in Spanish and failing to recruit enough bilingual poll workers to assist voters who don’t speak English well.

The suit, filed last Friday, asked the court to authorize monitors through 2009, and also filed court papers asking that action be taken in time for the Nov. 7 election.

A spokesman for the mayor’s office did not immediately return a call for comment Thursday.

The lawsuit also contends that the city violated the federal Voting Rights Act by allowing only poll workers _ some of whom did not speak Spanish _ to help Hispanic voters cast ballots. The law permits voters who require assistance to request help from someone they know.

About 10 percent of Philadelphia’s 1.4 million residents are Hispanic, according to 2004 Census figures cited in the suit. The government estimates that about 36 percent of voting-age Hispanics in the city have limited English skills.

The Justice Department won a similar suit against Berks County in March 2003, when a federal judge substantiated allegations that officials there had engaged in ``hostile and unequal treatment″ of Hispanics during past elections.

Berks County officials had resisted providing Spanish-language ballots, saying they discouraged people from learning English.

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