A US judge has ordered 32 of Florida’s 67 counties to provide ballots in Spanish from the 2020 presidential primary, largely because of the large population of Puerto Ricans in the center of the state, according to court documents that Efe had access to on Monday.
The decision is considered a victory by civil groups that sued the Florida government in 2018, including LatinoJustice PRLDEF (LJP), Faith in Florida, Hispanic Federation, Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, UnidosUS and Vamos4PR, in the name of a Puerto Rican, Marta Rivera Wood.
“The order came in a case focused on Puerto Rican voters and part of the federal Voting Rights Act addressed to people who were educated in schools where the predominant language was not English,” federal judge Mark Walker said in the ruling.
Latino organizations had sued the state Secretary of State for failing to provide ballots and electoral aid in Spanish for the growing Puerto Rican population that has settled in the center of the state and now exceeds 1.2 million.
“The court order ensures the fundamental right to vote for our Puerto Rican-American citizens in Florida,” said Esperanza Segarra, LJP director.
The judge emphasized that the order, “not optional,” also requires that the 32 counties provide any additional assistance required by Spanish-speaking citizens as of the March 2020 presidential primary.
“The secretary (of State of Florida, Laurel M. Lee) will attach this order in his directives to the 32 supervisors of elections in the 32 counties”, the judge specifies in the judicial document to which Efe had access.
“Voters who have been educated in Puerto Rico present this demand to enforce the clear provisions of Article 4 (e) of the Voting Rights Act,” the judge explained.
The Court guarantees with its order “compliance with the clear guidelines of Congress” established 54 years ago in the Federal Electoral Law.
Last September Walker had already demanded that the Government of Florida provide electoral material and information (not ballots) in Spanish in 32 counties with a Puerto Rican population to guarantee their right to vote in the legislative elections of last November.
In September, the judge urged the Government of Florida to supervise and administer all “electoral laws, not just some electoral laws,” which includes bilingual ballots.
“It is remarkable that a coalition of organizations and individuals with voting rights is needed to sue in federal court to seek minimal compliance with the simple language of a venerable law,” Judge Walker lamented.
He indicated that the Governor of the State and the Secretary of State should initiate a regulatory process to guarantee compliance with this law “with decades of existence.”
The lack of knowledge of the English language appears first in the list of the difficulties faced by Puerto Ricans in Florida, evidenced in 2018 a study by the International University of Florida (FIU) and the Puerto Rican Alliance of Florida.
Many of them arrived in Florida after the whiplash of Hurricane Maria in 2017, and relocated to the center of the state, a region with a large presence of Puerto Ricans, who fled the fiscal crisis of recent years.
The counties are Alachua, Bay, Brevard, Charlotte, Citrus, Clay, Columbia, Duval, Escambia, Flagler, Hernando, Highlands, Indian River, Jackson, Lake, Leon, Levy, Manatee, Marion, Martin, Monroe, Okaloosa, Okeechobee, Pasco, Putnam, St. Johns, St. Lucie, Santa Rosa, Sarasota, Sumter, Taylor and Wakulla.