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Judge orders Florida to provide Spanish-speaking ballots to displaced Puerto Ricans

A federal judge ordered dozens of Florida counties to provide Spanish-language ballots and other election materials to Puerto Rican voters displaced by Hurricane Maria, ahead of the March 2020 presidential primary elections.

Last summer, a coalition of advocacy groups sued Florida’s secretary of state and election supervisors of 32 counties in the state for failing to provide ballots and other voting materials to thousands of Spanish-speaking Puerto Ricans who had been forced to relocate following the massive storm that destroyed much of the island.

The lawsuit argued that in not providing Spanish-language election materials to Puerto Rican voters, Florida was in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. On Friday, U.S. District Court of Northern Florida Judge Mark Walker — who previously had issued a scathing critique of election practices at the county and state level in Florida — agreed, in a sweeping ruling.

“The Court’s order secures the fundamental right to vote for our fellow Puerto Rican-American citizens in Florida while we continue to work with the Secretary to ensure the proposed rules are in compliance with the Voting Rights Acts in time for the 2020 elections,” Esperanza Segarra, a senior counsel at LatinoJustice PRLDEF — formerly known as the Puerto Rico Legal Defense and Education Fund —  said in a statement.

LatinoJustice attorneys were on the legal team that represented a coalition of Florida and Latinx rights groups including Hispanic Federation, Vamos 4 PR, Faith in Florida, Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, UnidosUS and a class of over 30,000 Spanish-speaking Puerto Ricans living in the 32 counties.

At the time the lawsuit was filed, former Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) was still in office. Last month, his predecessor Gov. Ron DeSantis — like Scott, a Republican —  sided with voting rights groups and called on election officials to “address voting accessibility issues for Florida’s Spanish-speaking community statewide.”

In September, Judge Walker sided with Spanish-speaking Floridians, and chided the state for its repeated attempts to violate federal election laws.

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