STATEWIDE – Nearly half of Florida’s counties will provide more resources to vote in Spanish after a year-long battle ended on a settlement this week.
Nearly three years ago, Marta Rivera, 73, went to her polling place in Gainesville, Florida, to cast her vote in the United States for the first time. She said there were no resources in Spanish to help her, which complicated things because Rivera only speaks Spanish.
“I was able to vote, but I needed to bring my daughter to help me,” Rivera said in Spanish. “I did not understand anything”.
Her experience led her to file a lawsuit with the support of several Hispanic organizations against 32 Florida counties, including several Central Florida election supervisory offices. The lawsuit, Rivera v. Barton, alleged that election supervisors in those offices violated the US Voting Rights Act. Those counties held elections in English only and did not provide resources to assist Spanish-speaking voters, the plaintiffs said.
“Section 4-E is specific to the rights of voters who are educated in a public school in Puerto Rico and who have limited English proficiency,” said Miranda Galindo, Southeastern regional senior legal advisor for Justicia Latina.
After Hurricane Maria, the need for resources in Spanish became a necessity as hundreds of survivors moved to Florida, including Rivera, Galindo said. An estimated 300,000 Puerto Ricans arrived in Florida after Hurricane Maria.
“That just means there are more voters who are hurt by a county’s failure to provide voting services in Spanish,” Galindo said.
The case was settled Monday, with 31 of the 32 counties agreeing. Over the next 10 years, counties agree to provide additional support services in Spanish, such as ballots in Spanish, polling place materials and assistance in Spanish, and a supervisor of elections website in Spanish.
“It shouldn’t have taken that long, but that’s what our organization and the plaintiffs’ organizations are doing is making sure that we are monitoring and observing violations of the Voting Rights Act,” Galindo said.
“I am so shocked and happy,” Rivera said. “In November, I received a vote-by-mail ballot in Spanish and was able to cast my vote myself.”
The state of Florida recently implemented some of the resources to help Spanish speakers. Galindo said they will continue to monitor all 67 Florida counties to make sure they provide resources for Spanish-speaking voters and comply with the Voting Rights Act.
Los condados que acordaron incluyen Alachua, Bay, Brevard, Citrus, Clay, Columbia, Duval, Escambia, Flagler, Hernando, Highlands, Indian River, Jackson, Lake, Leon, Levy, Manatee, Marion, Martin, Monroe, Okaloosa, Okeechobee, Pasco, Putnam, St. Johns, St. Lucie, Santa Rosa, Sarasota, Sumter, Taylor y Wakulla.