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Should Supervisors of Election Provide Spanish-Language Ballots? Judge Hears Arguments.

| September 5, 2018

spanish language ballots

Spanish subtitles sought. (© FlaglerLive)

A federal judge today hears arguments in a lawsuit seeking to require 32 Florida counties, including Flagler, to provide Spanish-language ballots and other materials to Puerto Ricans who are eligible to vote in the state.


The arguments, which focus heavily on the federal Voting Rights Act, will come almost exactly two months before the Nov. 6 general election. U.S. District Judge Mark Walker will consider a request from plaintiffs for a preliminary injunction that would require Spanish-language ballots and assistance for what are believed to be more than 30,000 Puerto Ricans.

According to a document filed as part of the case, Flagler numbers nearly 2,000 residents 18 and over who speak Spanish at home, and 655 who speak English “less well.” 

“The counties at issue in this case are home to a class of thousands of Spanish-speaking Puerto Ricans — including those who recently arrived after Hurricane Maria — who are eligible to vote but are unable to vote effectively in English,” the plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction said. “But despite repeated requests to many of the counties to provide Spanish-language election materials and assistance to protect the rights of these Floridians, the counties continue to conduct English-only elections that effectively deprive those citizens of their right to vote.”

But attorneys for Secretary of State Ken Detzner and Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Kim Barton, who is named as a defendant representing other county elections supervisors, want Walker to deny the proposed preliminary injunction. They dispute the plaintiffs’ interpretation of part of the Voting Rights Act and contend that it would be difficult to comply with the requested changes before the November elections.

“It is now too late,” a response filed by Detzner’s attorney said. “With the first ballots for the General Election expected to be mailed on or before September 22, 2018, the 32 counties at issue do not have time or ability to provide the relief the plaintiffs seek. The equities and public interest weigh against the preliminary injunction.”

The potential class-action lawsuit was filed in August by a coalition of groups, with Alachua County resident Marta Valentina Rivera Madera as the named plaintiff. In addition to Alachua, it targets Bay, Brevard, Charlotte, 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 and Wakulla counties.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys have focused on part of the Voting Rights Act that is aimed at people who were educated in schools where the predominant language was not English and seeks to ensure they are not denied the right to vote. The motion said Congress enacted that part of the law “to protect the rights of Spanish-speaking Puerto Ricans to vote stateside.”

As a result, the motion for preliminary injunction contends that the 32 counties are required to provide Spanish-language ballots, election materials and bilingual poll workers. The motion estimates at least 30,000 people would be affected in the 32 counties — and that number doesn’t include people who moved to Florida after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, last year.

The motion said the 32 targeted counties have not provided Spanish-language ballots in recent elections and “provide little to no Spanish-language election materials or assistance.”

“It is well-established that Spanish-language ballots and sample ballots, voting guides and instructions, and bilingual poll workers are necessary to ensure a Spanish-speaking citizen can vote effectively,” the motion for preliminary injunction said. “The counties’ failure to provide those materials in Spanish effectively conditions the right to vote of plaintiff Rivera and the proposed class of thousands of similarly-situated Puerto Ricans on an ability to read and understand English — and, because they cannot fully read and understand English, effectively deprives them of their right to vote.”

But Barton’s attorneys contended in a response filed last week that the Voting Rights Act does not require “specific” Spanish-language materials and assistance. The attorneys also cited a series of steps Barton has taken to help accommodate Spanish-speaking voters, such as providing a number of materials in Spanish, providing bilingual support in her office and planning to have a voters’ guide translated into Spanish.

“The question is, to what extent must Supervisor Barton go in providing supporting materials in Spanish that will allow the plaintiff (Rivera) to meaningfully engage in the electoral process and cast her vote?” the response said. “Supervisor Barton believes that the action she is taking in Alachua County meets the requirements of the VRA (Voting Rights Act), despite Supervisor Barton not currently providing the actual voting ballot in Spanish.”

–Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida

The Spanish-Language Ballots Lawsuit (2018):

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37 Responses for “Should Supervisors of Election Provide Spanish-Language Ballots? Judge Hears Arguments.”

  1. atilla says:

    No way. They have to make an effort to learn english. If they can’t speak it how can the vote not knowing who”s who.

  2. Jane Gentile-Youd says:

    Wow…. biting the hand that feeds you. Puerto Ricans are known for their loyalty to the United States, especially in our military where many proudly have served and serve today but that does not justify demanding that our country be obligated to print ballots in any language other than English.

    It is beyond outrageous with the generous amount of time afforded by mail in ballots and early voting available that those people who cannot read English and wish to participate in the greatest privilege our county has to offer cannot consult with , or read online, a translation into Spanish or any other language.

    Until little over 100 years ago women, English speaking women, born on US soil were not even allowed to vote! Give me a break. The entire government of our country functions in English. If one cannot English how do they participate, how to they understand, how to they contribute to the American way of life if they cannot communicate in English?

    Having lived in two Spanish speaking countries I carried a dictionary with me; I took Spanish classes; I studied at home with the Berlitz system and learned to communicate in the language of the country I was living in . Imagine if all the Italian , Irish, European Jews, Arabs, Asian ( legal) immigrants demanded ballots in their native tongue …..just imagine..

    Keeping my fingers crossed that the courts agree that our ballots can remain in the same language all government is conducted in – ENGLISH.

  3. Really says:

    The USA are American English speaking States. Learn it. The answer is a resounding NO. Next….

  4. Veteran says:

    Hell no! To vote you must be a US citizen. To become a citizen you have to have a basic knowledge of English. Enough to read and understand a ballot.

  5. Dave says:

    Well duh, half our country speaks Spanish so why wouldn’t we make the ballot readable for that half? Seems like a decent and reasonable thing to do.

  6. Anonymous says:

    This is the chickens coming home to roost from colonialism.

  7. Fernando Melendez says:

    As a Puerto Rican born here in the U.S, I say it shouldn’t only be focused on the Puerto Ricans, there are many other Spanish speaking residents in Florida, that in my opinion need it more, after all Puerto Rico as a common wealth for so many years do have excellent English courses implemented in their school system for many years. ( last 50-60 years)The other problem with this law suite is that, then all other non English speaking communities will feel left out. I say leave the ballots as they are in English.

    My humble opinion

  8. Born and Raised Here says:

    Absoulutely. Most of us went to School here in Florida, where both English and Spainish were the appropiate language. Most of us Native Floridians are bilingual, anyway.

  9. fiscal says:

    ABSOLUTELY NOT! How about Russian, then?

  10. oldtimer says:

    Why not also Russian , Vietnamese, Chinese, Polish German, Hell why bother with English at all?

  11. tulip says:

    If a person from another country wants to live in the USA then they should be made to learn English and adapt to our country’s ways, and they should adapt to our ways, not the other way around. We accommodate many different people from many different countries as it is, never mind doing even more. The ability to be able to communicate is of the utmost importance. Our language is English and immigrants should learn it. They don’t have to know the language perfectly, but enough that everyone can understand each person is saying and also be able to read the same things as everyone else. If I chose to live in a foreign country, I would expect to learn the language, not expect that country to change its ways to suit me. Seem like to many foreigners come here and start making demands.

    • Pierre Tristam says:

      tulip, Puerto Rico is no more “another country” than Texas or Vermont. Puerto Ricans are American citizens. To suggest that they should adopt to “our” language is no less absurd than to suggest that all Americans should adapt to theirs, though the American solution is that we can all accommodate each other and add bi-lingualism where rational–at little cost and much more gained by way of participation. Isn’t that what democracy is about?

  12. Nancy N. says:

    Really sad to see the bigotry on display here. Apparently a lot of commenters are unaware that there is a place where a person can be born a U.S. citizen – Puerto Rico – where English is not the first language.

    Perhaps we should take some lessons from Canada and how they respect the rights of their French speaking minority.

  13. Bill says:

    We need to have a “official” national language and that should be English. ALL government documents then should be made in ENGLISH ONLY.

  14. Really says:

    Lets not forget the Declaration of Independence. Have you been to Canada. ????? Theres like 40mm people there. More Musk Ox than humans…. SMH We love PR Nancy. Lesrn English thats all

  15. Born and Raised Here says:

    Puerto Rico is an American territory. As far as the language of Florida goes, I would have to say both English and Spainish, since the Spainards were here way before any other Old World. country. But anyone should be able to get a voting ballot of any language he or she wants. Isn’t our country just one big melting pot. ?

  16. Really says:

    Think of the Cost savings which enables us to teach more to speak the language just sayin

  17. Anonymous says:

    Why not have them in Russian, Italian, German, Portguese and every other language too. Don’t discriminate and only think about those who speak English and Spanish. We have customer service reps all over the world and they speak english, so let’s be accommodating in case Russians want to vote in our 2020 elections. Some counties offer ballots in multiple languages, so why not here? Everything should be in English and Spanish like any other place!!

  18. Pogo says:

    @Nancy N.

    Yes, indeed.

    Hola!
    https://www.google.com/search?q=spanish+federal+forms&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8

    It belongs to human nature to hate those you have injured.
    – Publius Tacitus, senator and a historian of the Roman Empire

  19. fredrick says:

    So Pierre, since the article is focused on US Citizens from Puerto Rico, are the ballots that are translated to Spanish only to be handed out to Puerto Ricans and not to Spanish speaking LEGAL immigrants? End colonialism and cut Puerto Rico lose and let them govern themselves. That is what democracy is about.

    • Pierre Tristam says:

      Yes frederick, that’s exactly what I meant: not only should just Puerto Ricans be handed the Spanish-language ballot, but any other person who requests the Spanish-language ballot should either be immediately deported, preferably by separating them from their children first, or taken out back and shot, maybe after their tongues are cut out for having the nerve to speak Spanish on god-bless-American soil. Maybe you can volunteer to check ID.

  20. Traveling Rep says:

    Surprisingly, I would lean to support a bi-lingual ballot – even though I am a conservative. The only reason I would not is because, the only way to legally become a US Citizen is by passing an Oral Naturalization Exam. The applicant for naturalization is required to respond in English during that exam.

    As everyone well knows, one cannot vote until they’ve become a citizen. Puerto Ricans are a special case in that they ARE citizens (at birth), whom primarily speak Spanish in their commonwealth.

    However, by the logic of the lawsuit, shouldn’t this mean that ballots are also printed in Chamorro for the people of Guam and the CNMI – Marianas Islands?

  21. Richard says:

    For Puerto Ricans, the ballot should be available in their language as they are US Citizens but may not be able to read English . HOWEVER, why discriminate against all of the other US Citizens living in Florida or anywhere in the US who have immigrated to the US and don’t read English? If you are going to do it for one country then you need to do it for everyone. Otherwise what makes YOU better than them?

  22. Stanley Hardy says:

    The ballots are pretty simple to begin with, fill in the circle. And, well, the names are the same in either language. Are the politicians providing multilingual mailings?

  23. Agkistrodon says:

    I myself speak two languages, and I am sitting here wondering why someone would have trouble with a name, e.g. “Sally Johansen”. In English it is “Sally Johansen”, in Spanish it is “Sally Johansen”. With regards to numbered initiatives/ props, those are normally available online in SEVERAL languages, as well as there being ways to translate them. One should know before they go into to vote who and what they are voting for, and not playing the voting dartboard game…….

  24. Anonymous says:

    Pierre Tristam: Quit Monkeying around with our official national language. People who immigrate here are to have a functional understanding and ability to speak English by law. You have this all backwards. Don’t expect a whole nation to conform to the immigrant’s language, he should conform to ours. You know, when in Rome, do as the Romans. I would not expect to move to some other nation that speaks a different language and make them change everything for me, that’s would be pretty selfish and self centered on my part. They did not ask me to come there, nor did I ask for immigrants to come here. Follow the Laws of this country and enter this country legally, become an American citizen legally, which includes learning the English language among other things. We already have laws established for this newest liberal made controversy, so just follow the current laws of the United States. Is that such a hard thing to understand and do? These immigrants came here obviously because they thought our system of government and way of life was better, so why are they trying to change it.

    • Pierre Tristam says:

      Puerto Ricans, “immigrants”? Damn. I had no idea. Folks from Kansas, Alabama, Georgia, Alachua County, Volusia: immigrants, too? And in what holey gruel did you find that law declaring English “our official national language”? At least you have the intelligence to remain anonymous. بسم الله.

  25. fredrick says:

    Pierre why would we deport anyone who requests a Spanish speaking ballot? All long as they are here legally and or a US citizen all’s good. If they are a citizen then they would be allowed to vote. You and the left, can claim the right is anti immigrant all you want, it does not make it true. Though I identify as a native American, like you, I come from a family of immigrants who waited in line and came here legally. I was blessed to be born here. That is all we are asking for. Enforce the law. Get in line and help us continue to enrich the country with people from all over the world. Of course with the terrible economy we have, the record high unemployment rates for all races and genders, and with what a shit hole it has become after Trump was elected, not sure why anyone would want to come here or continue to live here I will never know.
    I still can never make sense of someone having an issue with showing an ID when you go to vote. Never has anyone presented a logical explanation backed up with facts. Constitution says you need to be a citizen. Give me a way to verify that, that does not involve some sort of government issued identification. Hell I can’t even go buy a gun anymore without and ID unless I go to some gun show and buy one in the parking lot. Here is your chance to explain…. Ready….. go!!!!!!

  26. Anonymous says:

    Provisions are not made for those who can’t read and write other than for a voter to get assistance. If one I unable to read or read English, then bring someone one to assist you to vote. There is no reason to have ballots in brail, English, paper, Spanish, etc. Just have a paper ballot and let those who have some kind of disability get assistance voting. All this does is drive up costs and cause our taxes to go up. When you have the ability to vote by mail you can fill out your ballot at home and don’t even have to come to the polls. The TV commercials and ads and mailings and robo calls are not in Spanish so how would a voter who can’t vote an English ballot even make an informed decision? They can’t!!!!

  27. palmcoaster says:

    You are so right Pierre ! Puerto Ricans are NOT immigrants Anonymous, they are born citizens whether you like it or not and there are millions of proud Puerto Ricans among us and they have the same rights that you Anonymous have! USA got The Enchanted Island of Puerto Rico in the Spanish American war so our Puerto Rican citizens came in with the territory!! Please get schooled and informed: https://www.history.com/topics/spanish-american-war.
    Didn’t they teach you this in school? Maybe you didn’t do your homework? If so too bad.

  28. palmcoaster says:

    The reason why we should have a ballot is Spanish is very clear we had the Mexican American war and we took away from Mexico in 1848 by force its territories that were about 1/3 of our USA of today. Also in the Spanish American war we took by force among other Spanish territories Puerto Rico by force, then the Spanish requirement of ballots come with the annexed territories we took by force then. When it comes to all the other languages as suggested like Russian, Vietnamese etc etc. those are immigrants and not Spanish speaking nationals were their territories were annexed by USA forcibly in wars. Get it now?
    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e6/Mexico_1824_%28equirectangular_projection%29.png
    https://www.history.com/topics/spanish-american-war

  29. palmcoaster says:

    The total ignorance of our history is laughable here!!
    No wonder we have the POTUS that we deserve now! All enhanced by this currently blind federal infused racism!

  30. palmcoaster says:

    Marta Valentina Madera Rivera God bless you for your courage, as you won this round!! But keep your watch as next time depending the justices appointed they may undo this good, by the fact that may not be considered “settled law by some scholars”

  31. Willy Boy says:

    I like seeing the looks on Spanish speakers, when they realize someone they thought could not understand Spanish knows what they are saying. They like having what they think is a secret code. Most of them don’t speak very good Spanish, either.

  32. gmath55 says:

    fredrick – “the record high unemployment rates for all races and genders” What! fredrick are you living in a different world?

    National Unemployment Rate at 3.9 Percent Through August 2018. Approximately 201,000 jobs were created in August 2018, and the national unemployment rate remained unchanged at 3.9 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. … Unemployment figures for August 2018 will be released on Friday, October 5, 2018.

    NOTE: fredrick this is for all races and genders.

  33. gmath55 says:

    Looking at some of the comments here we have people who cannot spell, use grammar correctly, and have poor sentence structure! And, you are suppose to know English. LOL

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