Spanish Speaks in Florida’s Elections

Spanish-language ballots and assistance will now be available to voters in nearly half of Florida’s counties.

A settlement has been reached in one of the largest lawsuits filed under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, over providing Spanish-language ballots and assistance to voters in nearly half of Florida’s counties.

After a long legal battle, the settlement provides for Spanish-language ballots, election materials, hotlines, websites, voting assistance, and signs at election supervisors’ offices.

The Rivera v. Barton lawsuit, filed in 2018, argued that election officials had not complied with the Voting Rights Act when they didn’t provide ballots and information in Spanish to Spanish-speaking voters who had recently moved to Florida from Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory and Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, so they can register and vote in stateside elections when they move from the island to the mainland. Over a million Puerto Ricans, the vast majority of whom received school instruction in Spanish, now live in Florida, and nearly 900,000 were eligible to vote in 2018.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 states that individuals who were taught in a U.S. school where the primary language is not English, such as those in Puerto Rico, cannot be denied the right to vote just because they cannot understand English.
Marta Rivera Madera, 73, was the plaintiff in the lawsuit. “I feel good and I am very pleased with the decisions they took,” she said in a telephone news briefing.

In 2019, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction requiring the 32 counties to take steps toward providing Spanish-language ballots and assistance in time for the March 2020 presidential primary election.

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