GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Today, voting rights advocates entered into a 10-year agreement with 31 Florida county supervisors of elections to help ensure Spanish-dominant voters educated in Puerto Rico can vote effectively.
The settlement is a result of the August 2018 lawsuit by civic engagement groups Faith in Florida, Hispanic Federation, Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, UnidosUS, and Vamos4PR, and individual Marta Rivera Madera, a Puerto Rican, Spanish-speaking voter living in Alachua County.The plaintiffs are represented by LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Demos, SEIU and Altshuler Berzon LLP.
The lawsuit, brought on behalf of all Spanish-dominant, Puerto Rican voters residing in 32 Florida counties, alleged that the counties’ supervisors of Elections held English-only elections that prevented Spanish-speaking voters from Puerto Rico from voting effectively, in violation of Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It is one of the largest suits ever brought under Section 4(e)
“Marta Rivera’s story is that of so many Americans who face barriers the most fundamental means of civic participation: casting a ballot. By ensuring that voters with limited English proficiency can access ballots, vote-by-mail requests, and other materials in Spanish, today’s settlement is one more positive step in the pursuit of a just, inclusive, multiracial democracy,” Stuart Naifeh, Senior Counsel, Demos.
Now, Plaintiffs have brought this case to a successful resolution by entering into a settlement agreement with 31 of the 32 county Supervisors of Elections whom Plaintiffs alleged were in violation of Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act. The settlement will provide additional assistance for Spanish-speaking voters in these counties beyond that required by the State’s new rules Under the settlement, the 31 Supervisors will provide the following language access services in their counties for the next 10 years:
“Language access has been at the core of our work at LatinoJustice PRLDEF from the moment we started in 1972 and our success in protecting the Latino vote from English-only systems is the heart of what we do,” said Kira Romero-Craft, Managing Attorney for LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “The settlement we reached today in Florida expands access for Latino voters and is exactly what our community demands. We commend our community organizations and stand in gratitude with la Señora Marta Rivera Madera, who bravely gave voice to the hundreds of voters who require Spanish language ballots, election materials and assistance to cast an informed and confidential vote. This settlement agreement brings us one step closer to making true the promises of the Voting Rights Act and the principle of equality for all.”
Plaintiff Marta Rivera Madera, came to Florida after losing nearly everything in Hurricane Maria. She left Puerto Rico just two weeks shy of her 70th birthday. Before that, she lived almost all of her life in Puerto Rico, went to school there, married there, had children there, and voted there. But when she tried to vote in Florida, she was faced with a voting process entirely in English, which she was unable to navigate without Spanish-language assistance.
Like Ms.Rivera, an estimated 160,000 Puerto Ricans fled to Florida following Hurricane Maria, and more than half a million Puerto Ricans moved to Florida during the previous decade because of the island’s economic crisis.Ms.Rivera brought this lawsuit to ensure that she, and other Spanish-speaking Florida citizens from Puerto Rico like her, can exercise their fundamental right to vote.The racial justice and civic advocacy organizations that joined her as plaintiff sought those same goals, and will continue to fight for Spanish-speaking Floridians to be able to fully participate in our democracy.