Judge orders Florida to provide Spanish-language ballots after non-profit groups sued

More than 30,000 Puerto Ricans in the state of Florida may have just gotten more help in casting a vote in November’s elections.

In a ruling issued on Friday, a federal judge ordered 32 Florida counties to provide Spanish language sample ballots, noting that a failure to help voters who are eligible could violate the federal Voting Rights Act, according to Reuters.

“Puerto Ricans are American citizens,” Chief Judge Mark Walker of the federal court in Tallahassee, wrote. “Unique among Americans, they are not educated primarily in English – and do not need to be. But, like all American citizens, they possess the fundamental right to vote.”

“As this Court notes with tiresome regularity, Defendant Detzner is Florida’s ‘chief election officer'” Walker wrote, adding that “There is no asterisk after the provision stating ‘except for the Voting Rights Act of 1965.'”

The ruling comes after some non-profit groups sued the elections supervisor of certain counties and Florida’s Secretary of State, Kenneth Detzner requesting bilingual ballots and help for non English-speakers. There was a special focus on Puerto Ricans in the state, a growing population especially in light of last year’s Hurricane Maria which reportedly caused more than 56,000 Puerto Ricans to resettle in Florida.

According to Huffington Post:

In an order on Friday, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker agreed that the information available was inadequate. Although he accepted the state’s argument that it couldn’t redo its election software before November, he ruled that the 32 county supervisors of elections must print sample Spanish ballots identical to the English ones and provide the sample ballots at polling places with posted notices. He also ordered the officials to post sample ballots on their websites with Spanish instructions.


The preliminary injunction is not a final ruling and does not cover 35 out of Florida’s 67 counties but is specifically for the 32 counties affected by the lawsuit brought by the advocacy groups.

Marta Rivera, a woman in her 70s, is the lead plaintiff in the suit. Though she lived in Puerto Rico her whole life, Rivera moved to Florida after the hurricane last year and, according to HuffPost, is “more comfortable speaking Spanish than English.”

“We are thrilled that Judge Walker saw the need to provide Spanish language materials to U.S. citizens educated in Puerto Rico in Spanish,” Kira Romero-Craft, an attorney representing the nonprofit groups, said according to Reuters.

The state will reportedly be advising local election supervisors to comply, according to spokespersons for Detzner and Gov. Rick Scott, both Republicans. With Florida considered a swing state in elections, the decision by Walker, who was appointed under former President Obama, could be significant.

“Florida is the world’s greatest melting pot, and we don’t want any registered voters to not be able to exercise their right because of a language barrier,” John Tupps, a spokesman for Scott, told Reuters.

Walker’s ruling Friday took a jab at Detzner because of a string of election-related lawsuits.

“Here we are again. The clock hits 6:00 a.m. Sonny and Cher’s ‘I Got You Babe’ starts playing. Denizens of and visitors to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania eagerly await the groundhog’s prediction. And the state of Florida is alleged to violate federal law in its handling of elections,” he wrote, with the footnote: “Phil Connors, portrayed by Bill Murray, experienced a similar phenomenon.”

While the ruling is a win for the non-profit groups and Spanish speaking voters, many expressed their frustrations with the judge’s decision on Twitter.


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