For Immediate Release: August 16, 2018
Contact: Erin Williams, firstname.lastname@example.org, (202) 544-8411, ext. 108
Washington – Today, Faith In Florida, along with civic engagement groups UnidosUS, Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, Hispanic Federation, Vamos4PR, and individual voter Marta Rivera filed suit against Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner and the Supervisors of Elections of 32 Florida counties.
The suit is focused on individuals that are in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965’s requirement to provide bilingual voting materials and assistance to Puerto Rican-educated, Spanish speaking United States citizens. The plaintiffs are represented by Demos, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, and the law firm of Altshuler Berzon LLP. The Service Employees International Union also represents certain plaintiffs.
More than 450,000 Puerto Ricans were forced to relocate due to Hurricane Maria, and several thousand will be eligible to vote in the August 28 primary election and the November 6 general election. With the potential for voter suppression and Florida’s long history of voting irregularities, faith leaders are concerned that eligible voters who speak Spanish may be denied their right to vote.
Faith in Florida is one of 21 federations in the national Faith in Action network. The state-based group trains leaders and equips them with tools to fight racism and make society more equitable. Faith In Action has been heavily focused on supporting those displaced by Hurricane Maria, most recently working with LatinoJustice PRLDEF to gain a temporary restraining order to halt the eviction process of nearly 2,000 evacuees.
“The state is legally obligated to provide proper assistance to its voters. Asking people to rely on the inconsistencies of Google Translate or similar means is not only confusing, but demeaning,” said Wes Lathrop, director of Faith In Florida. “Language isn’t a barrier for making people abide by state laws or pay taxes; everyone deserves to properly understand what and whom they are casting their vote for.”
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 obligates that Florida must provide bilingual ballots, voter guides, and poll worker assistance to voters that were educated in Puerto Rico and have limited English proficiency. There are several counties that are not in compliance with the law, and have done little to provide assistance to voters.
Voter engagement and education is a key tenant of the support that Faith In Florida provides, and this decision will help bring justice to thousands of Floridians. “When supervisors of election offices do not translate voting-related materials into languages besides English, it creates a barrier for citizens across Florida to have their voices heard in the democratic process. Faith in Florida stands against any attempt to make make voting more difficult for those who English is not their first language.”