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Court Orders Expansion of Spanish Language Access in Florida for Upcoming Elections

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Court Orders Expansion of Spanish Language Access in Florida for Upcoming Elections

Location: 
Tallahassee, FL
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CONTACT: Christiaan Perez, cperez@LatinoJustice.org, 212-739-7581; Shanae Bass, sbass@demos.org

Tallahassee, FL – Today, Judge Mark Walker, the Chief U.S. District Judge in Northern Florida, issued a court order granting a preliminary injunction requiring Florida’s Secretary of State and the Supervisors of Elections of 32 Florida counties to take further steps to comply with section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act. The order requires the Secretary of State to ensure that those 32 counties provide official ballots in both Spanish and English, Spanish language election assistance, and Spanish translations of other voting materials for elections beginning with the 2020 presidential primary election. This decision comes after a lawsuit was brought against the Florida Secretary of State focusing on 32 counties where a significant number of Puerto Rican voters reside.  As part of the order, the court paused further proceedings in the case while the Secretary of State considers adopting rules throughout Florida that would require the provision of Spanish-language ballots, election materials, and assistance in future elections. The organizations involved in the lawsuit are now focusing their efforts on ensuring that the result of that rulemaking process complies with the Voting Rights Act.
 
This is the latest stage of a lawsuit brought last summer by Hispanic Federation, Vamos 4 PR, Faith in Florida, Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, UnidosUS, and a proposed class of more than 30,000 Spanish-speaking Puerto Ricans living in the 32 counties.  The plaintiffs are represented by LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Demos, SEIU, and Altshuler Berzon LLP.

Read the Judge's Order here; more about the legal battle up to this point here; the original complaint here.

“The Court’s order secures the fundamental right to vote for our fellow Puerto Rican-American citizens in Florida while we continue to work with the Secretary to ensure the proposed rules are in compliance with the Voting Rights Acts in time for the 2020 elections,” said Esperanza Segarra, Senior Counsel at LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

“In today’s decision, the court recognized that Spanish-speaking voters are not second-class citizens and should not have to wait for their voting rights to be fully protected,” said Stuart Naifeh, Senior Counsel at Demos. “For democratic participation to have any meaning, voters must be able to exercise their right to vote in a language they understand.”

"Access to voting shouldn't stop because of a language barrier," said Monica Russo, President of SEIU Florida. "The decision by Judge Walker upholds the Voting Rights Act, and reinforces that every citizen in the state has the right to vote. Any effort to constrain a person’s right to vote is a severe form of disenfranchisement."

"This decision is an important step forward in our mission to ensure that voting materials are guaranteed to be available in Spanish for voters from Puerto Rico,” said Maria Revelles, deputy director with Faith in Florida, a federation of Faith in Action. "This is a measure that, despite being made law several years ago, we have to continue fighting for full implementation. Puerto Ricans are American citizens and we, as faith leaders, will continue to advocate for those who are still dealing with the after-effects of Hurricane Maria and still residing in Florida as a result. By ensuring materials are available in Spanish, we know our Puerto Rican brothers and sister can make the most informed decision because each voter deserves to fully understand what and whom they are casting their vote for.”

"We welcome the court's decision today to ensure that Latinos in the state have access to Spanish language ballots and assistance.  Our state is one of the more diverse in the country, with a significant Latino voting population and Florida's leadership should be working to ensure that all eligible voters have equal access to election information and to the voting booth, regardless of what a voter's native language is." Jared Nordlund Florida Senior Strategist, UnidosUS

"The Latino community in Florida is eager to participate in elections. Between the 2014 general election and the midterm election of 2018, Florida Latinos experienced a 176% growth in turnout, showing that our community is energized to make our voices heard. Expanding language access will help bolster our participation and strengthen our democracy." Nancy Batista, Florida State Director for Mi Familia Vota Education Fund

"The court decision mandates make bilingual materials accessible to all Spanish-speaking Floridians.”  said Yanidsi Velez, Florida State Director of Hispanic Federation. “With Latinos representing more than 25 percent of the Florida population, it is essential that their voices are heard in every election cycle. We have important work to do to remove barriers to voting, improve voter access and enforce the rights of all voters so that their voices are heard and their votes  counted. Today, we are content that the Florida Secretary of State will uphold our nation's democratic values."

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LatinoJustice PRLDEF works to create a more just society by using and challenging the rule of law to secure transformative, equitable and accessible justice, by empowering our community and by fostering leadership through advocacy and education.

Demos is a dynamic think-and-do tank that powers the movement for a just, inclusive, multiracial democracy. Through cutting-edge policy research, inspiring litigation, and deep relationships with grassroots organizations, Demos champions solutions that will create a democracy and economy rooted in racial equity.

SEIU Florida represents over 55,000 active and retired healthcare professionals, public employees, and property service workers in the state of Florida. SEIU members provide vital public services in Florida’s hospitals, nursing homes, public schools, community colleges, municipal and county governments, malls, and universities. With over 2.1 million members, SEIU is the fastest-growing union in North America.

Altshuler Berzon LLP is a San Francisco law firm that specializes in labor and employment, constitutional, environmental, civil rights, campaign and election, and impact litigation, at both the trial and appellate levels, in federal and state courts, as well as before administrative agencies.

Faith in Action, formerly known as PICO National Network, is the largest grassroots, faith-based organizing network in the United States. The nonpartisan organization works with 1,000 religious congregations in more than 200 cities and towns through its 46 local and state federations. For more information, visit www.faithinaction.org.

UnidosUS, previously known as NCLR (National Council of La Raza), is the nation’s largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization. Through its unique combination of expert research, advocacy, programs, and an Affiliate Network of nearly 300 community-based organizations across the United States and Puerto Rico, UnidosUS simultaneously challenges the social, economic, and political barriers that affect Latinos at the national and local levels. For more than 50 years, UnidosUS has united communities and different groups seeking common ground through collaboration, and that share a desire to make our country stronger. For more information on UnidosUS, visit www.unidosus.org or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Hispanic Federation (HF) is the nation’s premier Latino nonprofit membership organization. Founded in 1990, HF seeks to support Hispanic families and strengthen Latino institutions through work in the areas of education, health, immigration, civic engagement, economic empowerment, & the environment

Mi Familia Vota Education Fund is a National Latino civic engagement organization working to increase Latino civic participation. More Here: https://www.mifamiliavota.org/mi-familia-vota-education-fund/