Court: State Must Provide Spanish-Language Ballots for Next Election

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In 2017, Hurricane Maria ravaged a predominantly Spanish speaking U.S. territory, leaving many of those citizens with two decisions: Stay and rebuild or head to the states and start a new life there. Many chose the latter but quickly realized that there was a language barrier when it came time to vote in the midterm election.

As a result, a Federal judge has ordered 32 Florida counties to provide Spanish-language ballots for the 2020 election. Over 56,000 Puerto Ricans left their homeland and headed to Florida where they reported having issues voting in the midterm election last year, NBC News reported. Since Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, all they had to do after they moved to the state was register to vote.

In his ruling, Chief Judge Mark Walker expressed that any county failing to comply would violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965. “Compliance with this Order is not optional,” the Gainesville judge stated Friday. “This Court will not hesitate to use every tool the law provides to enforce this Order.”

The ruling was simply a formality as Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, had already begun creating rules that would require Florida to follow these bilingual guidelines.

There are a fair number of Puerto Ricans who speak both English and Spanish, but there is an even greater number who only speak Spanish, Fox News reported.

Walker’s ruling came after several civic groups were angered that many voters who came from Puerto Rico couldn’t read or understand the ballot information presented to them.

“The court’s order secures the fundamental right to vote for our fellow Puerto Rican-American citizens in Florida,” Esperanza Segarra, a lawyer who represents one of these civic groups, said.

“For democratic participation to have any meaning, voters must be able to exercise their right to vote in a language they understand. In today’s decision, the court recognized that Spanish-speaking voters are not second-class citizens,” Stuart Naifeh, who works for LatinoJustice, said.