A federal judge Wednesday will hear arguments in a lawsuit seeking to require 32 Florida counties to provide Spanish-language ballots and other materials to Puerto Ricans who are eligible to vote in the state. The arguments, which focus heavily on the federal Voting Rights Act, will come almost exactly two months before the Nov. 6 general election. U.S. District Judge Mark Walker will consider a request from plaintiffs for a preliminary injunction that would require Spanish-language ballots and assistance for what are believed to be more than 30,000 Puerto Ricans. “The counties at issue in this case are home to a class of thousands of Spanish-speaking Puerto Ricans —- including those who recently arrived after Hurricane Maria —- who are eligible to vote but are unable to vote effectively in English,” the plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction said. “But despite repeated requests to many of the counties to provide Spanish-language election materials and assistance to protect the rights of these Floridians, the counties continue to conduct English-only elections that effectively deprive those citizens of their right to vote.”
But attorneys for Secretary of State Ken Detzner and Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Kim Barton, who is named as a defendant representing other county elections supervisors, want Walker to deny the proposed preliminary injunction. They dispute the plaintiffs’ interpretation of part of the Voting Rights Act and contend that it would be difficult to comply with the requested changes before the November elections.
“It is now too late,” a response filed by Detzner’s attorney said. “With the first ballots for the General Election expected to be mailed on or before September 22, 2018, the 32 counties at issue do not have time or ability to provide the relief the plaintiffs seek. The equities and public interest weigh against the preliminary injunction.”
The potential class-action lawsuit was filed in August by a coalition of groups, with Alachua County resident Marta Valentina Rivera Madera as the named plaintiff. In addition to Alachua, it targets Bay, Brevard, Charlotte, 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 counties.