Puerto Ricans Sue Florida Elections Officials For Bilingual Ballots

Aug 24, 2018
Originally published on August 24, 2018 6:49 pm

Advocates for Puerto Ricans who moved to Florida after they were displaced by Hurricane Maria have filed a federal lawsuit demanding 32 counties in the state provide voting materials in Spanish ahead of the November election. 

The lawsuit argues these new Floridians won't be able to properly exercise their right to vote if they only have access to English ballots.

Kira Romero-Craft is an attorney with LatinoJustice/PRLDEF, one of the groups behind the suit.

"It's like asking me, who doesn't speak Russian, to give me something in Russian and say, "Hey you have to make a decision that can have huge impact,'" she said.

The plaintiffs claim the counties in question are not complying with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

A section of the law says no American citizen educated in another language should be denied the right to vote because they can't understand English. Most Puerto Ricans who recently moved to Florida were educated on the island in Spanish.

"It's vitally important, I mean we are talking about disenfranchising potentially thousands of voters based on the fact that they're not given the information they need and were required by federal law to get," Romero-Craft said.

Some supervisors of elections have voiced concerns that their counties won't have the resources to re-print materials or hire bilingual staff ahead of the November election.

Some are asking to wait until after the election to revisit the issue, while others argue their county should not be required to make these changes if they don't have a large Puerto Rican population.

Romero-Craft says advocates began pushing for Spanish-language materials months before the lawsuit was filed.

A federal judge is scheduled to hear the case on September 5 in Tallahassee.

In addition to the 32 counties named in the lawsuit, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner is also listed as a defendant. Some Tampa Bay counties named in the suit include Sarasota, Manatee, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus.

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