A federal judge ordered 32 Florida counties to provide sample ballots in Spanish so Puerto Rican voters can use them to navigate English-only ballots in a ruling Friday that was often sarcastic and scolding. A coalition of groups sued the Department of State and the county supervisors in the hope they’d be forced to produce bilingual or Spanish language ballots. While U.S. District Court Judge Mark Walker agreed with the defendants that it would be nearly impossible to change election software and to redesign ballots before the Nov. 6 election, he ordered them to make provisions for Puerto Rican voters. “While lost on some, Puerto Rico is part of the United States,” Walker said in his ruling. “The American flag has flown over the island since 1898, and its people have been American citizens since 1917.”
The lawsuit was filed by a group of non-profit organizations that promote civic involvement in Latino communities. One of the plaintiffs, Marta Valentina Rivera Madera, moved from Puerto Rico to Gainesville after Hurricane Maria devastated the island. The suit said she doesn’t believe she can vote effectively because she doesn’t speak, read or understand English well.
“Voting in a language you do not understand is like asking this Court decide the winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry,” Walker wrote. “Ineffective, in other words.”
Florida has 67 counties. Fifteen already provide Spanish language or bilingual ballots. The coalition identified 32 other counties with Puerto Rican voters, and there are another 20 counties with few, if any, Puerto Rican voters.