Civil rights groups sue for bilingual ballots in Florida

Civil rights groups sue for bilingual ballots in Florida
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Civil rights groups in Florida are suing for bilingual ballots, claiming the English-language ballots in a state with a growing population of Spanish-speakers are a violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 

Civic engagement groups Faith in Florida, Hispanic Federation, Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, UnidosUS, and Vamos4PR on Thursday filed a lawsuit against the Florida's secretary of State and the elections supervisors of 32 Florida counties.

The groups are calling for these counties to offer bilingual ballots and assistance for non English-speakers, with a focus on the growing population of Puerto Ricans in the state.

The secretary of State's office said it would "review" the lawsuit, according to the The Tampa Bay Times.

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"Currently, many thousands of Puerto Rican and other Spanish-speaking Florida residents with limited English proficiency are being impeded from exercising their fundamental right to vote because elections in many parts of the state are conducted only in English," wrote LatinoJustice PRLDEF, one of the legal advocacy organizations involved in the action, in a Thursday press release. 

Section 4E of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 guarantees the right to register and vote to those with limited English, NBC reported. The act says the right to vote cannot be denied to those "who have completed the 6th grade in public school, such as those in Puerto Rico, where the predominant classroom language is a language other than English." 

After Hurricane Maria, more than 56,000 Puerto Ricans resettled in Florida, increasing the already substantial population of Spanish-speakers in the state. 

"Denying anyone [the right to vote] is wholly unacceptable anywhere in our country, and that goes even more so for those who communities that have endured a long history of voter suppression – like Spanish-speaking Latinos and other people of color in the state of Florida," said José Calderón, president of the Hispanic Federation, in a press release.

"We are particularly concerned about the right of Puerto Ricans who have settled in Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria to vote in the language of their own preference. These recent arrivals to the state must be afforded every opportunity to exercise their right to vote on the mainland." 

Multiple civil rights groups in April sent letters to counties in Florida, urging them to expand their bilingual resources voluntarily. The Tampa Bay Times reported that the 13 counties initially contacted declined the request.