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U.S. seeks Hispanic voters' complaints

Spanish-speaking voters in Central Florida say they faced hurdles trying to cast ballots in November.

Justice Department lawyers will interview Hispanics in Orange and Osceola counties about whether they had difficulty in trying to vote during the presidential election, officials said Wednesday.

The interviews are part of an inquiry by the Justice Department into violations of the federal Voting Rights Act and the National Voter Registration Act, said department spokeswoman Christine Romano.

She said the department has completed interviews in other counties in Florida but wouldn't say how many counties or which ones. Justice officials decided to publicize next week's interviews in Orlando and Kissimmee because of low turnout at the other interviews.

After the election, some Hispanic voters in Osceola County alleged they were required to produce two kinds of identification when only one was required and that they were confused by their ballots.

"It has come to the department's attention as part of this inquiry that some people who use Spanish as their primary language had some difficulties," Romano said from Washington.

Romano said it was unusual for the Justice Department to publicize such interviews, but "we've experienced some difficulty in reaching the constituencies in which we've had complaints."

The announcement about the interviews comes a week after U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said he would beef up efforts to prevent voting rights abuses.

The Justice Department can criminally prosecute anyone who denies a person the right to vote. The department also can bring civil lawsuits in some circumstances to alter racially discriminatory voting procedures.

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