Court Orders Expansion of Spanish Language Access in Florida for Upcoming Elections

May 10, 2019
4:07 PM

The following media release was shared on Friday afternoon by LatinoJustice PRLDEF:

TALLAHASSEE, FL – Today, Judge Mark Walker, the Chief U.S. District Judge in Northern Florida, issued a court order granting a preliminary injunction requiring Florida’s Secretary of State and the Supervisors of Elections of 32 Florida counties to take further steps to comply with section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act. The order requires the Secretary of State to ensure that those 32 counties provide official ballots in both Spanish and English, Spanish language election assistance, and Spanish translations of other voting materials for elections beginning with the 2020 presidential primary election. This decision comes after a lawsuit was brought against the Florida Secretary of State focusing on 32 counties where a significant number of Puerto Rican voters reside.

As part of the order, the court paused further proceedings in the case while the Secretary of State considers adopting rules throughout Florida that would require the provision of Spanish-language ballots, election materials, and assistance in future elections. The organizations involved in the lawsuit are now focusing their efforts on ensuring that the result of that rulemaking process complies with the Voting Rights Act.

This is the latest stage of a lawsuit brought last summer by Hispanic Federation, Vamos 4 PR, Faith in Florida, Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, UnidosUS, and a proposed class of more than 30,000 Spanish-speaking Puerto Ricans living in the 32 counties. The plaintiffs are represented by LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Demos, SEIU, and Altshuler Berzon LLP.

Read the Judge’s Order below. (More about the legal battle up to this point is here and the original complaint is here.)

“The Court’s order secures the fundamental right to vote for our fellow Puerto Rican-American citizens in Florida while we continue to work with the Secretary to ensure the proposed rules are in compliance with the Voting Rights Acts in time for the 2020 elections,” said Esperanza Segarra, Senior Counsel at LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

“In today’s decision, the court recognized that Spanish-speaking voters are not second-class citizens and should not have to wait for their voting rights to be fully protected,” said Stuart Naifeh, Senior Counsel at Demos. “For democratic participation to have any meaning, voters must be able to exercise their right to vote in a language they understand.”

“Access to voting shouldn’t stop because of a language barrier,” said Monica Russo, President of SEIU Florida. “The decision by Judge Walker upholds the Voting Rights Act and reinforces that every citizen in the state has the right to vote. Any effort to constrain a person’s right to vote is a severe form of disenfranchisement.”

“This decision is an important step forward in our mission to ensure that voting materials are guaranteed to be available in Spanish for voters from Puerto Rico,” said Maria Revelles, deputy director with Faith in Florida, a federation of Faith in Action. “This is a measure that, despite being made law several years ago, we have to continue fighting for full implementation. Puerto Ricans are American citizens and we, as faith leaders, will continue to advocate for those who are still dealing with the after-effects of Hurricane Maria and still residing in Florida as a result. By ensuring materials are available in Spanish, we know our Puerto Rican brothers and sister can make the most informed decision because each voter deserves to fully understand what and whom they are casting their vote for.”