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Federal lawsuit alleges hostility to Hispanic voters

Officials in Berks County, Pennsylvania sued

From Terry Frieden
CNN Washington Bureau

Officials in Berks County, Pennsylvania sued

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Civil rights lawyers for the federal government sued officials in Berks County, Pennsylvania, Tuesday, charging blatant discrimination and open hostility to Hispanic voters.

The Justice Department suit stems from the alleged mistreatment of the growing Puerto Rican community in Reading. Berks County is in southeastern Pennsylvania 60 miles west of Philadelphia.

The lawsuit charges members of the Berks County Commission, the Board of Elections, and the director of elections with maintaining an environment at polling places that is hostile and discriminatory toward Hispanic citizens.

"The complaint alleges that Berks County employs poll workers who regularly express overt hostility towards Hispanics and citizens who do not speak or read English well, make discriminatory remarks to such voters, prevent or discourage such voters from participating in the electory process, and treat Hispanic voters differently than other voters with regard to identification requirements," the Justice Department said.

Officials said most of those affected, though they are U.S. citizens, have been educated in Puerto Rican schools and do not speak or read English well.

"There are well settled provisions of federal law that guarantee bilingual assistance at the polls for those of Puerto Rican origin and others," said Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Ralph Boyd.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan in Philadelphia issued a statement promising "all steps necessary to ensure that all registered Pennsylvanians who show up at the polls are treated with respect."

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