Florida Must Provide Comprehensive Bilingual Voting Assistance
Statement by LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Demos, and SEIU
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ proposed rule requiring Spanish-language official ballots throughout the state, which is the direct result of legal pressure, is commendable.
However, the governor’s proposed rules are short on details and will not take effect until too far in the future. The law is clear: robust bilingual elections assistance is required. The state needs to comply with its obligations under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That is why LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Demos, SEIU, and their partners are continuing to fight for those rights in court, including by seeking preliminary injunctive relief requiring full compliance with the Voting Rights Act through the provision of Spanish-language ballots, election materials, and assistance for elections that take place before the Secretary’s rules take effect. And that fight will continue after the rulemaking process is complete, if the Secretary’s rules ultimately fall short.
The proposed rules follow an announcement earlier this month by the Governor in which he instructed the Secretary of State to begin providing Spanish-language ballots in Florida in time for the 2020 general election. The Secretary has also proposed updating the state’s Polling Place Procedures Manual to require Spanish-language assistance during elections. Although the proposed changes to the Manual indicate that voting- and election-related materials must be accessible to Spanish-speaking voters, there is little detail about what materials this includes.
The Secretary should ensure that the rule is clear and unambiguous: local election officials must provide all voting-related materials available to English-speaking voters in Spanish as well, including voter guides, absentee voting materials, websites, and other such assistance. Further, there needs to be a way for Spanish-speaking voters to get assistance not just at polling places, but at county elections offices. In addition, voters register to vote and have questions about voting and registration throughout the year, and Spanish-language assistance must therefore be available not only at election time, but throughout the year.
The rules proposed by the Secretary are a great start, but they need to be strengthened, and a court order requiring full compliance with the Voting Rights Act during the rulemaking process is critical to protecting voters’ rights in upcoming elections. We are committed to working with the Secretary to create a robust set of rules that fully protect the right of Spanish-speaking Floridians to have their voices heard in the democratic process. If the rules do not meet the requirements of the law, however, judicial action may still be necessary to guarantee that all eligible Floridians can vote and partake in our democracy in a meaningful way.