updated 10/27/2006 9:13:17 AM ET 2006-10-27T13:13:17

City officials and Hispanic community leaders objected Thursday to the federal government's plans to put monitors at city polling places on Election Day, saying those efforts could discourage people from voting.

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The Department of Justice this month asked a federal judge to authorize appointment of monitors beginning with the upcoming Nov. 7 election and ending in 2009. The government accused the city of failing to provide sufficient election materials in Spanish and not recruiting enough bilingual poll workers.

But City Solicitor Romulo L. Diaz Jr. said at a news conference Thursday that the federal government could not guarantee him that federal monitors wouldn't follow voters into polling booths. It would be better to appoint local monitors, he said.

Big Brother in ballot booth
The Justice Department said Thursday that monitors would not enter the booths without voter permission.

"No federal observers would ever enter a voting booth unless specifically requested by and with the expressed permission of a voter, and to suggest otherwise is just untrue," spokeswoman Cynthia Magnuson told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Still, local attorney Luis P. Diaz, who also attended Thursday's news conference with other community leaders, said that "we're very, very concerned about having Big Brother taking care of us."

Voter assistance
The federal lawsuit contends 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.

Diaz, the city solicitor, said Philadelphia has been helping to accommodate non-English speakers at the polls for more than three decades. The city plans to recruit about 200 translators to help at the more than 150 polling places expected to need translation services this year, he said.

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

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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