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Judge Orders Spanish-Language Sample Ballots in Flagler and 31 Other Counties

| September 7, 2018

yo vote

Democracy’s universal language. (Ecumenical Immigration Alliance)

A federal judge Friday required elections officials in 32 counties, including Flagler, to provide Spanish-language sample ballots for the November general election — but said there wasn’t enough time to order more far-reaching steps to help Puerto Ricans eligible to vote in Florida.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, in a strongly, and at times wryly worded 27-page ruling, partially sided with plaintiffs who sought an injunction to require Spanish-language ballots and other assistance for what are believed to be more than 30,000 Puerto Ricans in the counties.

“Voting in a language you do not understand is like asking this court (to) decide the winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry — ineffective, in other words,” Walker wrote. “Courts have long held that the right to vote includes not only the right to physically enter a polling place and fill out a ballot but also the right to comprehend and understand what is on that ballot.”

But with the election less than two months away, he acknowledged concerns raised by county elections supervisors about making changes at this late stage. In issuing a preliminary injunction requiring the Spanish-language sample ballots, he declined to order such things as Spanish-language ballots and hiring bilingual poll workers.

Walker wrote that granting “all of plaintiffs’ requested relief would place significant hardships on election administrators.”

“If this court denies all relief to plaintiffs, they will lose their right to a meaningful vote,” he wrote. “This court would, in effect, be authorizing disenfranchisement. If this court grants all plaintiffs’ requested relief, defendants will be required to spend considerable time and effort to comply with the Voting Rights Act. They would have to do so in the lead-up to the November general election, which involves significant planning, logistics, and oversight — all of which is well-documented in the record.”

“While lost on some, Puerto Rico is part of the United States,” Judge Walker wrote.

“I can say that I am pleased with the reasonable decision by Judge Walker, who has taken our already condensed timelines under consideration,” Flagler County Elections Supervisor Kaiti Lenhart said. “Our ballot is in the final stages of production to meet the deadline for printing next week. The sample ballot in Spanish language will be provided by mail, in legal advertising and available at each polling place in Flagler County.”

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. It targeted Alachua, 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 that seeks to ensure they are not denied the right to vote. A motion filed by the plaintiffs said Congress enacted that part of the law “to protect the rights of Spanish-speaking Puerto Ricans to vote stateside.”

The plaintiffs also have pointed to an influx of Puerto Ricans to Florida after Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. territory last year. Walker’s ruling said Rivera, the named plaintiff, moved to Gainesville after the storm.

The plaintiffs filed an underlying lawsuit and sought a preliminary injunction to try to quickly get changes for the Nov. 6 general election. Walker’s ruling dealt only with the preliminary injunction but appeared to make clear he backs the plaintiffs on the underlying issues.

“Puerto Ricans are American citizens,” he 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. The issue in this case is whether Florida officials, consistent with longstanding federal law, must provide assistance to Puerto Rican voters who wish to vote. Under the plain language of the Voting Rights Act, they must.”

Walker, who has repeatedly clashed with Gov. Rick Scott’s administration about voting-related issues, openly mocked state elections officials.

“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 sarcastically.

The ruling said 13 Florida counties — Broward, DeSoto, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough, Lee, Miami-Dade, Orange, Osceola, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Polk, and Seminole — provide Spanish-language ballots to comply with another part of the Voting Rights Act. Also, Collier and Volusia counties provide Spanish-language material, though they have not been required to do so. The lawsuit targeted 32 counties with Puerto Rican populations.

Walker’s order requires the Florida Department of State to direct elections supervisors in the 32 counties to make available Spanish-language sample ballots that have “matching size, information, layout, placement, and fonts as an official ballot does.” Also, the supervisors will be required to publish the Spanish-language sample ballots on their websites and provide signs at polling places to make sure voters are aware of the sample ballots.

Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Kim Barton, who is a defendant in the case as a representative of other supervisors, said in court documents that she has taken a number of steps to try to help Spanish-speaking voters, such as providing a materials in Spanish, providing bilingual support in her office and planning to have a voters’ guide translated into Spanish.

Similarly, Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley said this week his office has worked to make accommodations.

“All of our election guides and voting guides were all translated,” Earley told The News Service of Florida. “We had printed copies, and copies available at the polling places. During early voting, we had one person request assistance in voting in Spanish, out of 206,000 registered voters or the 76,000 that voted.”

—News Service of Florida and FlaglerLive

Judge Walker’s Decision on Spanish-Language Ballots (2018):

19 Responses for “Judge Orders Spanish-Language Sample Ballots in Flagler and 31 Other Counties”

  1. Michael Schottey says:

    This is excellent and there is no good argument against this. Voting should be more accessible for citizens, not less!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Puerto Ricans are the most Lawsuit happy people that I know of. They Always have a problem about something. I’ve employed quite a few in our business, {50 people plus} at a time. I prefer the Mexican/South American workers over Puerto Rican workers every time.

  3. Freddy says:

    I call BS on Spanish ballots for Puerto Ricans. If they are part of the United States and has been a commonwealth for a hundred years they should be speaking English even as a second language. I understand countries South of the border that are not part of the USA not speaking English but Puerto Ricans must decide if they are part of the US or they need to have their independence and get off welfare.

  4. Fiscal says:

    And how about Russian? I pay more in taxes than these deadbeats

  5. palmcoaster says:

    Comes with the territory!!
    We won Puerto Rico from Spaniards in a war, then is fair that they can read our ballots in Spanish!
    Also 1/3 of our USA territories were Mexico’s until 1848, so if we took them. they also deserve in those states to be able to read our ballots in Spanish.

  6. Willy Boy says:

    The judge says, “Unique among Americans, they are not educated primarily in English – and do not need to be.” Not sure Puerto Ricans are all that “unique” in that respect. Maybe we should provide translators at the polling stations.

  7. A COncerned Observer says:

    Sorry, but this is the United States of America. We speak English. If you choose to live here over where you came from, it can only be that life here is better than where you came from. If you do choose to live here, learn the language. Assimilate into our culture and our laws or leave. This decision is but a first step down a very long and very slippery slope. Does any reasonable person think this is the only language that will be mandated for electoral ballots? Any voter limited to one language is not only hampered by their inability to read the ballot, but understanding all of the other media explaining the issues, opinions and plans of elected officials, proposed amendments and laws. ACLU (which does not have A CLUe) activists must be giddy with anticipation. What mandate comes next? Drivers licenses? Road signs? Will non-English speaking persons be able to understand directions of our law enforcement officers and fire fighters or must all Americans now be tasked to learn every other countries language? How many languages are out there? Why our elected leaders cannot agree on an official language for the United States in beyond all comprehension. Could their zeal be rooted in garnering votes from non-English speaking persons? I think so.

    In the 50’s, I learned in school that America was a melting pot, where many customs, cultures and peoples came together and melded into and became one. I understand now that this analogy has morphed into America being like a salad, where all the different ingredients were intermixed, but each maintained their own individual color, flavor and texture but all brought something to the dish. That is a sad change in attitudes based upon self-serving desires to force the many to bow to the few. The United States is more than just a place to live.

  8. woody says:

    I work retail and get people only speak spanish and have been living here for 40 years.They actually get an attitude because I don’t speak spanish,good luck with that.

  9. Sherry says:

    The individual citizens in Puerto Rico do NOT control which language is taught in their schools. Spouting off about how they should learn English, just because “you” biased Floridians say they should, is absurd. It currently is NOT lawfully required that they learn English. Therefore, the judge rightfully upheld the law.

    When you become dictator, “you” can make the rules. Don’t worry. . . since our Democratic values are being thrown out by this administration daily, your prejudice rants are being heard. . . for “NOW”.

    Can’t wait for the next 2 elections!

  10. oldtimer says:

    this is the only country in the world that puts up with crap like this, I’ve been all over the world and even other countries that have English as a second language expect you to have a working knowledge of their language

  11. palmcoaster says:

    Applause for Sherry!!

  12. Geezer says:

    In these United States, its people speak 350 languages, with English
    and Spanish being the most commonly spoken.
    Publications are most commonly printed in English because it’s the
    most understood language in America, not because it’s the official language.
    The US has no official language. Look it up, idiots.

    The US is a country made up of immigrants, whose children learn
    English as their first language. You wouldn’t be here if your ancestors
    didn’t find their way here. Your ancestors made America great, despite
    a language barrier.

    If any American citizen facing a language barrier needs their ballot
    sample composed in their native language, so be it.
    Tough shit if your bigoted ass doesn’t like it.

    Only Native Americans speak (spoke) in native tongue.
    All other languages are “foreign.”

    Let’s make Navajo the official US language. They were here first!
    Navajo is the most popular Native American tongue in the US.

    Don’t be a Da’alzhin.

  13. Regulator says:

    Why is a judge passing a law? That is not his job.

  14. Jake says:

    @sherry, you’re wrong about the “The individual citizens in Puerto Rico do NOT control which language is taught in their schools.”

    “In 1991 the Puerto Rican legislature, following the lead of the pro-commonwealth Popular Democratic Party and the governor, Rafael Hernández Colon, endorsed a bill that made Spanish the island’s official language,”

    If Puerto Rico can make Spanish the “island’s official language”, why is it so distasteful to many of you that Florida, or by extension, the United States, make English it’s “official language?

  15. Mary Fusco says:

    Sherry, why does everything have to turn to racism? This has absolutely nothing to do with racism.

    If a person cannot read, write or speak english how the hell do they know what or who they are voting for, whether the ballot is in english, spanish, french, german, or any other language? I understand that if you reside in a state, and are a registered voter, you have the right to vote. What I don’t understand is why vote if you have no understanding of what you are voting for? Makes absolutely no sense to me. One needs to be able to listen and assimilate what the candidates are saying and then make an educated decision on which one will be the best for the job. If you cannot understand, how can you do this? It doesn’t matter what language you speak or where you came from.

  16. Sherry says:

    Elvis. . . please do tell me when it was the Ron DeSantis ever did anything “you” told him to do? Unfortunately, just as in the mainland USA, legislators hardly ever listen to their constituents. That is why I specified that “the individual citizens of Puerto Rico. . . .”

    Although Spanish is the official language, many parents in Puerto Rico would love for their children to learn English. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the federal government assisted with such things? But, no wait. . . they are still without electricity, cleared roads, fully operational hospitals and schools in some areas. I guess “paper towels”. . . even thrown by trump. . . cannot fix all the damage FEMA left undone.


  17. Anonymous says:

    Sherry, the Puerto Ricans are still without power and utilities because their whole infrastructure was in a derelict state. The government is broke due to mismanagement and by some press reports, broke due to corruption. It is a monumental task to rebuild the infrastructure and monumental task for the United States to pay to rebuild it. I cannot understand why it is always the United States government, who is funded by U.S. citizens, who always gets to pay for every disaster, natural or manmade in this country as well as a lot of places around the world. Still the U.S. is cussed around the world by brain washed liberals such as yourself, for not fixing problems more quickly that a lot of times where created or worsened by actions the locals have taken, long before the natural disaster comes upon them. Take for instance the flooding of New Orleans La. Who in their right mind would build whole subdivisions in a gigantic basin that is approximately 8 feet below sea level and have to depend on a dike to prevent their deaths and destruction of their homes. How about the people who build on Earthquake faults, or right under Volcanoes on old lava flows, or the people who put homes within 1/2 mile of the beaches along just about any ocean, where they will be surely destroyed at some point by hurricanes or flooding, and the U.S. will again pay for the disaster and will get cussed for not rebuilding it in the same spot quickly enough to suite these brilliant peoples schedules. We are supposed to avoid future mistakes by learning from past mistakes. Puerto Rico is a possession/territory of the United States taken from Spain, and the U.S. should impose more control over the government’s operation to avoid allowing infrastructure to

  18. Dave says:

    Anonymous you do realize Puerto Ricans are American citizens right? Puerto Rico is America. And of course the ballots should be written in Spanish , half our country speaks Spanish so it’s only logical, why have ballots some citizens cant read?

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