Civil rights organizations have asked a federal judge to order the state of Florida and local election officials to provide Spanish-language ballots, literature and translators for voters of Latino descent in time for the midterm election. In a lawsuit filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, a coalition of nonpartisan groups argue that Florida’s secretary of state and local officials are violating the voting rights of Puerto Ricans, tens of thousands of whom moved to the state in the past year after Hurricane Maria devastated the island. The groups have spent months trying to work with local election officials in 32 counties to provide language services to Spanish-speaking residents.
Political and community leaders have long speculated about the effect Puerto Ricans — with more than 1 million residing in Florida — could have on elections. But data shows that the registration rate among the diaspora has been low, and activists are struggling to translate island politics into mainland politics for a population reeling from disaster and economic strife.
Language, activists say, is a big part of the problem. “Voting in a new place can be intimidating for anyone, and if your first language is not English, it can be even more difficult,” said Maria Revelles, a community organizer with Faith in Florida, a nonpartisan, faith-based advocacy organization.