Gov. Ron DeSantis is signaling the state’s surrender in a 2018 lawsuit filed by a Puerto Rican voter and several Latino groups to expand voter access to Spanish-language ballots in Florida elections. The DeSantis administration is asking a federal judge to hold the case in abeyance while the state writes new regulations requiring such ballots in every county.
Attorneys representing the Department of State said in a motion filed with U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee that DeSantis and his appointed Secretary of State, Laurel Lee, “unequivocally support and are committed to expanding access to election-related materials for all Floridians, including those of Puerto Rican descent educated in Puerto Rican schools where the primary language of instruction is Spanish.”
In September, Judge Walker ordered the state to provide Spanish-language elections materials in 32 counties with Puerto Rican populations. As many as 50,000 people from that U.S. territory have fled to Florida since Hurricane Maria in 2017.
“As this court has already recognized, Puerto Ricans are unique among American citizens,” the motion says.
“While Puerto Ricans have been American citizens since 1917, the primary language of instruction in Puerto Rican schools is Spanish. Making available Spanish-language materials for these American citizens educated in Spanish is simply the right thing to do.”
In total, 42 counties are already required to provide some degree of accommodation to people who speak languages other than English. Details here.
Attorneys with Latino Justice, representing the plaintiffs in the litigation, have not yet responded to a request for comment.
The DeSantis administration is pledging to begin the process within 14 days and to complete it in time for the 2020 General Election. Besides providing for Spanish-language ballots, officials plan to update polling procedures to cater to Spanish-speaking voters.
State rulemaking will proceed “with all deliberate speed,” the motion says, and will include testimony by supervisors and “other affected parties.”
As soon as the state sets new rules and publishes a revised state elections manual, “the secretary proposes to have local supervisors of elections hire and assign poll workers, clerks, assistant clerks, and other election workers who are able to understand, speak, write, and read Spanish fluently,” the motion says.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida isn’t directly involved in the litigation, but executive director Micah Kuvic tentatively welcomed the development.
“It’s certainly a good thing that the governor has decided to direct the secretary of state to develop these regulations,” Kuvic said. “The real test will be what the regulations say, how comprehensive they are, whether they actually do everything possible to ensure that people don’t have their right to vote based on the language they speak.”
Even so, DeSantis’ tone here “is at odds with other steps the governor is taking – particularly really aggressively pushing this bill that would require local law enforcement to do routine front-line immigration enforcement that would result in American citizens being detained wrongly,” he said.
Kuvic was referring to legislation before the Legislature cracking down on so-called “sanctuary cities.”