Press Release

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan Enters Consent Decree and Order in Voting Rights Act Lawsuit — Hamtramck’s Bengali Language Election Program Ordered for Four Years

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Today, U.S. District Judge Mark A. Goldsmith signed and entered the Consent Decree and Order in the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF)’s lawsuit against the City of Hamtramck over the former City Clerk’s failure to provide Bengali language election information and assistance as required by Section 203 of the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA). The term of this Consent Decree and Order is four years.

“Hamtramck is required to provide an effective Bengali Language Election Program from now until July 13, 2025,” said Susana Lorenzo-Giguere, Senior Staff Attorney with AALDEF’s Democracy Program. “ We are pleased that the Bengali speaking American citizens of Hamtramck will be able to register to vote and cast an informed, independent ballot to elect their candidates of choice in the upcoming elections, including the 2022 elections.”
“We admire the bravery of Rahima Begum, our limited English speaking plaintiff,” said Jerry Vattamala, Director of AALDEF’s Democracy Program. “In coming forward in this case, Rahima Begum has empowered Hamtramck’s Bengali speaking citizens to be able to understand and participate in the election process in their own language. We commend Detroit Action, Rising Voices and all of the local groups that are assisting language minority voters all across the state. AALDEF also appreciates the partnership of local pro bono co-counsel and civil rights attorney Sarah Prescott of Salvatore Prescott Porter & Porter.”

Before AALDEF’s lawsuit, Hamtramck’s former City Clerk had failed to provide access to Bengali ballots, provide adequate numbers of Bengali speaking poll workers or interpreters, and had an English-only elections website from which Hamtramck’s English speaking residents can easily obtain election information.

In this Consent Decree entered by the federal court today, the City of Hamtramck has agreed to:

  • Completely and accurately translate all election-related material, including ballots, information, instructions, and announcements, including their website, into Bengali.
  • Assign at least one Bengali speaking bilingual poll worker to each of Hamtramck’s seven voting precincts and at least one Bengali interpreter will be assigned to each of the City’s four poll sites, including two interpreters at the Community Center poll site.
  • Hire a Bengali Elections Program Coordinator who will coordinate all facets of Hamtramck’s Bengali Elections Program.
  • Establish a Bengali Language Advisory Group which will provide feedback to the Program Coordinator and the City Clerk on the effectiveness of the language assistance and how best to provide election-related materials and assistance to the LEP Bengali speaking community.

The Consent Decree applies to all elections conducted by the City going forward, allowing for a reasonable time period to implement the provisions of the Consent Decree for the Primary Election being held on August 3, 2021.

A copy of the Consent Decree and Order can be downloaded here.

A copy of the Complaint can be downloaded here.

A copy of AALDEF’s April 20, 2020 letter can be downloaded here.

AALDEF’s Section 203 Fact Sheet(s) can be downloaded here.

For additional information, contact:

Stuart J. Sia
Communications Director
212.966.5932 x203

Susana Lorenzo-Giguere
Senior Staff Attorney, Democracy Program
212.966.5932 x211

Jerry Vattamala
Director, Democracy Program
212.966.5932 x209