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Puerto Rico - Florida

Puerto Ricans in Florida to Start Receiving Election Materials in Spanish

As Spanish is the vernacular language of U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico, these new Florida voters will now have the right to vote in their native language.

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Voters of Puerto Rican origin in Florida got 31 counties in the state to “guarantee” ballots and voting materials in Spanish for this community as part of a settlement, following a lawsuit filed in 2018, the LatinoJustice PRLDEF group reported Monday.

The legal initiative sought that Puerto Ricans in Florida, who exceed 1.2 million, can exercise the right to vote “effectively” in the language they were educated on in the island.

Only one of the 32 counties sued, Charlotte, did not reach the agreement that ensures for the next ten years Spanish versions of ballots, signs, absentee ballot application forms, secrecy envelopes, instructions and assistance at polling places.

It also guarantees Spanish translation of the website of the election supervisors in each defendant county and a Spanish-language phone line, explained LatinoJustice PRLDEF, one of the legal groups that pushed for the lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed in 2018 by Faith in Florida, Hispanic Federation, Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, UnidosUS and Vamos4PR, on behalf of Marta Rivera Madera, representing Spanish-speaking Puerto Rican voters.

“Marta Rivera’s story is the story of so many Americans who face barriers to the most fundamental means of civic participation: casting a ballot,” attorney Stuart Naifeh said Monday.

In a first ruling in 2019, federal Judge Mark Walker had ordered 32 of Florida’s 67 counties to provide Spanish-language ballots starting in Florida’s 2020 presidential primary, largely because of the large population of Puerto Ricans in the central part of the state.

However, the plaintiffs felt that the changes made by the state did not ensure that those voters would have access to Spanish-language ballots.

For their part, the electoral authorities asked for the case to be dismissed, considering that they had complied with the request, which the judge opposed.

Lack of knowledge of the English language appears at the top of the list of difficulties faced by Puerto Ricans in Florida, evidenced in 2018 a study by Florida International University (FIU) and the Puerto Rican Alliance of Florida.

Many of them arrived in Florida after the 2017 battering of Hurricane Maria and relocated to the center of the state, a region with a large presence of Boricuas who arrived fleeing the fiscal crisis of recent years.

The 31 counties are Alachua, Bay, Brevard, 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.

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