The Alachua County Supervisor of Elections announced this week that it will offer Spanish-language ballots for the 2020 elections. They are also accepting poll worker applications from registered bilingual Alachua County voters.
This news comes almost two years after Puerto Rico native Marta Rivera Madera and multiple Hispanic voting advocacy groups filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Gainesville, accusing Alachua County Elections Supervisor Kim Barton and former Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner of violating the Voting Rights Act.
The plaintiffs in the suit included advocacy groups Faith in Florida, the Hispanic Federation, Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, UnidosUS and Vamos4PR.
Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act states that whenever a state or political subdivision provides any information relating to the election process, such as ballots, instructions and assistance, “it shall provide them in the language of the applicable minority group as well as in the English language.”
Karina Martinez, the communications director of Mi Familia Vota, said Alachua County also violated Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act, which states, “the right to register and vote may not be denied to those individuals who have completed the sixth grade in a public school, such as those in Puerto Rico, where the predominant classroom language is a language other than English.”
When these advocacy groups heard Madera’s story, they came together to help her with the lawsuit.
Maria Revelles, deputy director of Faith in Florida, a non-partisan advocacy organization, said they joined the lawsuit on behalf of many Spanish-speaking Floridians.
“We chose to take part in this lawsuit because there are thousands of Marta Rivera’s out there, and each of them deserve the right to vote in their native language,” she said.
Rivera moved to Florida after Hurricane Maria devasted Puerto Rico in 2017. Between 50,000 and 70,000 Puerto Ricans immigrated to Florida after the storm, many of whom settled in north central Florida, according to a 2018 study by Stefan Rayer, the Population Program director at the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research.
In September 2018, a month after Madera filed the lawsuit, Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker required 32 Florida counties, including Alachua County, to offer sample Spanish ballots for the fall elections.
T.J. Pyche, director of outreach for the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections office, said the decision to make bilingual ballots available stems from the lawsuit.
Though the sample ballots were helpful to Spanish-speaking voters, many of the advocacy groups involved in the lawsuit, such as Mi Familia Vota and Faith in Florida, believed these sample ballots were not enough. They insisted the state offer bilingual ballots and election materials.
Pyche said that before, voters had to use a Spanish sample ballot as a guide to fill out their official ballot, which was in English. With the announced change, that’s one less barrier for Spanish-speaking voters.
Two weeks ago, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that he would make sure all 67 Florida counties offer both English and Spanish-language ballots and Spanish-speaking assistance at the polls for the 2020 elections. The Spanish-language ballots will be available starting with the 2020 primary election.
As of now, 46 counties in Florida are subject to varying requirements to accommodate voters who speak Spanish.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau figures released Tuesday, the Hispanic turnout in Florida soared from 36% in 2014 to more than 44% in 2018, making the total number of Hispanic voters 1.4 million.
Martinez said the advocacy groups supporting Spanish-speaking voters are watching the proposed changes carefully.
“We’re looking at it with a lot of caution,” she said. “Our lawsuit was not just about bilingual ballots, but it was about all election-related materials that are related to Spanish-speaking voters. It’s great that they have ballots in their language, but how are they supposed to be educated on who they’re voting for?”
Those interested in becoming a bilingual poll worker can apply on the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections office’s website. They can attend a poll worker orientation starting at noon May 8 at the Josiah T. Walls Building at 515 N. Main St.