FLORIDA – Today, voting rights organizations Demos, LatinoJustice/PRLDEF and 18 other social justice groups sent letters to 13 Florida County Supervisors of Elections, urging them to provide bilingual voting materials for their Puerto Rican residents, as required by the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Under Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act, Florida counties are obligated to provide bilingual ballots, election materials, and poll worker assistance to voters with limited English proficiency who were educated in Puerto Rican schools. Compliance with these provisions is crucial, as it will allow Puerto Rican residents to exercise their fundamental right to vote without hindrance.
Following the devastation of Hurricane Maria last September, the Florida Department of Emergency Management has reported that over 450,000 Puerto Ricans came to Florida seeking safety among friends and family, and a sizable number will remain indefinitely, adding to the number of Puerto Ricans who already call Florida home. Many of the new residents are English-speaking but received public schooling in Spanish, making it difficult to interpret English-only ballots and other election-related materials.
"We are proud to register to vote Puerto Ricans who are moving to Florida.” Said Nancy Batista, Florida State Director at Mi Familia Vota. “They are equally deserving as any other American to exercise their right to vote and we expect our elected officials to provide the necessary resources to assist them, including Spanish language ballots."
Because of the sizeable number of Puerto Ricans residing in Florida, Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act specifically requires election authorities to make bilingual voting materials and information accessible online and at the polls.
“People who lost so much in Hurricane Maria should not also lose their right to vote,” said Stuart Naifeh, Senior Counsel at Demos. “We are calling on these counties to ensure that persons educated in Puerto Rico have access to Spanish-language voting materials and assistance at the polls, as the Voting Rights Act requires.”
The letter has been sent to 13 Florida counties, including Alachua, Brevard, Clay, Duval, Hernando, Highlands, Lake, Leon, Manatee, Marion, Pasco, Sarasota and St. Lucie County. The Florida County Supervisors of Elections addressed should act immediately and comply with the Voting Rights Act before Florida’s August 28, 2018 federal primary election.
Based on recent census data, a separate provision of the Voting Rights Act, known as Section 203, requires the State of Florida and 13 other Florida counties--Broward, DeSoto, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough, Lee, Miami-Dade, Orange, Osceola, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Polk, and Seminole--are required to provide language assistance to Spanish-speaking voters.
"It's unconscionable that nearly seven months after Hurricane Maria forced them to flee their homes in Puerto Rico, thousands of Americans who took refuge here in Florida may be denied the right to vote," said Liza McClenaghan, chair of Common Cause Florida. “The good news is that election administrators in counties covered under Section 203 can be a valuable resource for their colleagues in the counties we are calling upon to assist voters from Puerto Rico. We hope all these officials will be proactive in working together to make sure every qualified voter is able to vote in this year's elections.”
The letters offered counties assistance from the various social justice groups involved to ensure that fair and equal access to the right to vote for Florida’s growing Puerto Rican community is fulfilled.
“We are urging the state’s counties to comply with the law and ensure Spanish-language materials are available to our fellow citizens from Puerto Rico so that they have an opportunity to exercise their right to vote,” said Jared Nordlund, senior strategist at UnidosUS. “The state and local governments need to do all they can to make sure these families who’ve just witnessed devastation in Puerto Rico aren’t losing their ability to vote as a result of circumstances completely out of their own control. UnidosUS and our partner groups are ready to assist in any way we can to ensure bilingual materials are reaching our communities.”
“LatinoJustice PRLDEF has been at the forefront of protecting Puerto Ricans’ right to vote since our organization began in 1972,” said Kira Romero-Craft, managing attorney at LatinoJustice PRLDEF, which sued Volusia County in 2008 for violating Section 4(e). “Our voting rights work, especially in Florida, has benefitted not only Puerto Ricans but all Latino voters. Now after Hurricane Maria, we remain committed as ever to protecting the voting rights of the Puerto Rican diaspora.”
Read an example letter here.