• Elections supervisors scramble to get Spanish-language ballots by Election Day

    By: Deanna Allbrittin

    Updated:

    Some Central Florida elections supervisors say they're scrambling to comply with a new court order in time for the November election.

    A federal judge decided 32 counties--including Marion, Sumter, Lake, Brevard and Flager -- and by extension the state, are violating the 1965 Voting Rights Act by not having ballots available in Spanish for Puerto Ricans.

    “We were thrilled,” said Hispanic Federation’s Florida state director Betsy Franceschini. “You know, it’s something that we didn’t think we would be able to see before the elections, so the judge’s response was phenomenal.

    Read: Nancy Alvarez tours Puerto Rico: Tarps, damage remain nearly 1 year after Hurricane Maria

    In his 27-page ruling, Judge Mark Walker repeatedly scolded Secretary of State Ken Detzner, arguing that “voting in a language you do not understand is like asking this court to decide the winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry—ineffective in other words.”

    He reminded Detzner and the county supervisors that the Voting Rights Act states no person “shall be denied the right to vote in any Federal, State, or local election because of his inability to read, write, understand, or interpret any matter in the English language” if educated in a school “in which the predominant classroom language was other than English.”

    “There are thousands of Hispanics and Puerto Ricans who have relocated to these five counties, who now have an opportunity, like any other U.S. citizen to get the ballot in their language,” said Franceschini.

    That means potentially thousands of Puerto Ricans living in Central Florida will need these ballots by Nov. 6.

    And that will require quick work by elections supervisors, who tell WFTV they’re already facing a tight timeline for their English-language ballots. Now they’ll have to have sample Spanish ballots translated, designed and printed.

    “It’s a real time crunch,” said UCF political science professor Aubrey Jewett. “Although the election is not until the first week of November thereabouts, they actually have to start sending ballots out far, far ahead of time under federal law, for people who are in the military, but have their home address still in Florida. I mean literally they have to be printed within the next week to 10 days or something like that.”

    But he said if they all manage to comply with the court order and thousands of Puerto Ricans are newly empowered to vote, this decision could impact the outcome of the election, something he says politicians are already very aware of.

    “In a very close election, like we might have for governor or senator or any of these constitutional amendments that are proposed, if most of these five (thousand) or 10,000 people vote in one direction or the other, it could actually have an impact on the election,” said Jewett.

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