Court Orders Preliminary Injunction under Voting Rights Act to Protect Rights of Spanish-Speaking Puerto Ricans across 32 Florida Counties

On September 7, 2018, the federal court for the Northern District of Florida issued a preliminary injunction requiring Florida’s Secretary of State to direct the Supervisors of Elections in 32 Florida counties to make available a facsimile sample ballot in Spanish to voters protected by Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act, and to publish the sample ballot in advance of the election along with instructions in Spanish for how to use it to help cast a vote.

Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act prohibits states from denying the right to vote of Puerto Rican-educated American citizens based on their inability to speak, read, or understand English.  The Puerto Rican community surged in Florida following the devastation of Hurricane Maria in September 2017, but many Florida counties still run English-only elections.  On August 16, 2018, Altshuler Berzon LLP, along with co-counsel at Demos, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, and SEIU, filed a class-action complaint on behalf of more than 30,000 Spanish-speaking Puerto Ricans in the 32 counties, as well as several civic engagement organizations, and sought a preliminary injunction to allow Spanish-speaking Puerto Ricans the ability to cast a meaningful vote in the upcoming and future elections.  The case is Marta Valentina Rivera Madera, et al. v. Ken Detzner, et al., N.D. Fla. Case No. 1:18-cv-00152.

In granting a preliminary injunction, the court held that continuing to conduct English-only elections in counties that are home to Spanish-speaking Puerto Ricans clearly violates the Voting Rights Act.  As the Court explained:  “Puerto Ricans are American citizens.  Unique among Americans, they are not educated primarily in English-and do not need to be.  But, like all American citizens, they possess the fundamental right to vote.  The issue in this case is whether Florida officials, consistent with longstanding federal law, must provide assistance to Puerto Rican voters who wish to vote.  Under the plain language of the Voting Rights Act, they must.”  The Court also held that absent such assistance, those voters “would face the false decision to vote in a manner they do not meaningfully comprehend or not vote at all,” which “is antithetical to what our democratic government stands for.”

You can read the Preliminary Injunction Order here.

You can read more about the case here and here.