Nearly half of Florida’s counties are violating the Voting Rights Act by not offering Spanish-language ballots and other election materials to citizens, a suit filed in federal court Thursday alleges.
The lead plaintiff in the suit is Marta Rivera, a woman in her 70s who lived all of her life in Puerto Rico until she moved to Gainsville last year after Hurricane Maria severely damaged the U.S. territory. Rivera is more comfortable with Spanish than English, but her daughter helped her register to vote. The suit says election officials will offer her only an English-language ballot this fall, violating the 1965 Voting Rights Act. A provision of the 1965 law says anyone educated in a public school in the U.S. or territory where the language is not English can’t be blocked from voting based on their English proficiency.
Rivera’s lawyers want the court to let her represent all voters with Puerto Rican education who have limited or no English proficiency living in 32 of Florida’s 67 counties. They estimate there are at least 30,000 voters in the state who meet those conditions. More than 135,000 people moved from Puerto Rico to Florida in the weeks following Hurricane Maria last year, more than to any other state. They could be a potent political force in this year’s midterm elections but have been slow to register so far.