Federal law establishes that minority groups must have access to electoral materials in their native language. In Florida, 32 counties have been sued for not complying.
As established by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 13 Florida counties—in response to their growing Latino population—are now required to provide Spanish-language voting materials.
These counties must provide oral and written assistance, as well as election-related materials, such as instructions, forms, ballots, and notices for Latino voters.
The Florida counties where this regulation applies are Broward, DeSoto, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough, Lee, Miami-Dade, Orange, Osceola, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Polk, and Seminole.
“Section 203 [of the Voting Rights Act] establishes that counties with 5%—or at least 10,000 eligible voters of a group speaking a minority language—must offer all election-related materials in their language,” Ricardo Negrón, legal service coordinator for Latino Justice, told The Americano.
The Voting Rights Act stipulates that language assistance be provided for voters, either in person or through phone hotlines.
This requirement also includes translations of informative and election-related materials, including Florida voter registration forms, and voting guides.
Discrimination on the basis of race, color, or membership within a language-minority group is prohibited by Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
Moreover, Section 4 of the Act establishes the right to vote for all United States citizens educated in schools of any state and territory, including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, in a language other than English if the citizen cannot read, write, understand, or interpret English. Materials and assistance in Spanish must be available upon request.
Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act provides that “any voter who requires assistance to vote by reason of blindness, disability, or inability to read or write may be given assistance by a person of the voter’s choice, other than the voter’s employer or agent of that employer or officer or agent of the voter’s union.” This provision applies to voters who are illiterate or have limited English proficiency in an absentee or polling place/voting booth scenario.
In 2018, the Latino Justice organization—along with other civic engagement groups like Hispanic Federation, Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, and Vamos4PR—filed a lawsuit against Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner and the election supervisors of 32 Florida counties, for not providing bilingual voting materials and assistance as required by the Voting Rights Act because of their Latino population quotas.
Negrón said the lawsuit is on standby as Gov. Ron DeSantis has stated he will establish uniform rules regarding minority languages in voting materials for the state.
In April of this year, DeSantis ordered the Florida Department of State (DOS) to initiate rule-making that provides uniform Spanish-language ballots and Spanish-language voter assistance materials for the 2020 election and all future elections throughout the state.
Negrón explained how ballots varied from one county to another before this order was set in place. Orange County’s ballot, for instance, was bilingual from the get-go, while separate Spanish-language ballots were provided only upon request in other Florida counties.
“Now, it’s supposed to be that the entire state of Florida has voting ballots available in Spanish. This is no longer subject to specific counties where a requisite would apply. The new law goes into effect for the next primaries and general elections,” Negrón said.
Latino Justice and other organizations are working in tandem with voter protection programs.
“We call it electoral protection. We will visit voting centers now during the August primaries as well as, on a bigger scale, the general elections in November,” Negrón said.
The advocates in those centers will report any lack of materials in Spanish, as well as any violation of voter rights.