In August 2018 Demos and co-counsel filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of all Puerto Rican voters residing in 32 counties with large Puerto Rican populations and English-only elections. It is one of the largest suits ever brought under Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the provision prohibiting language-based discrimination against Puerto Rican voters. We brought this litigation after counties continued to administer English-only elections despite receiving letters from Demos and 19 other social justice groups in April 2018 urging their provision of bilingual voting materials to Puerto Rican residents.
Marta Rivera, our named plaintiff in the lawsuit, came to Florida after losing nearly everything in Hurricane Maria. Before that, she lived all of her life in Puerto Rico, went to school there, married there, had children there, and always, always voted there. She left Puerto Rico just two weeks shy of her 70th birthday. Rivera, like the estimated 160,000 Puerto Ricans who fled to Florida following Hurricane Maria and over half a million Puerto Ricans who moved to Florida during the previous decade because of the island’s economic crisis, would be unlawfully forced to navigate a voting process that is entirely in English without this legal challenge.
In September 2018, the federal district court sided with us and granted a preliminary injunction. The court ordered the Secretary of State to issue a directive to the 32 counties in Florida, requiring them to provide Spanish-language sample ballots at polling places, on county websites, and by mail to guide voters in marking their ballots, and to publicize the availability of these sample ballots and instructions on how to use them.
Litigation continues to resolve the case and secure a permanent injunction requiring bilingual ballots as well as translations of all other election-related forms and information and bilingual staff and poll-workers. We continue to pursue this case, in the hopes of helping not only the roughly 30,000 people we represent as a proposed class of Puerto Rican voters, but also the potentially hundreds of thousands of others with limited English proficiency in the state who will be able to cast a meaningful ballot with Spanish-language materials.
Maria Valentina Rivera Madera, Faith in Florida, Hispanic Federation, Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, Unidos US, and Vamos 4 PR.
LatinoJustice-PRLDEF, SEIU, and Altshuler Berzon, LLP