TAMPA, Fla. — A federal judge ruled on Friday that 32 counties in Florida must provide sample ballots in Spanish to better serve thousands of Puerto Ricans that moved there after Hurricane Maria.

  • Civil rights groups sued counties 2 weeks ago
  • Suit claimed counties violating Voting Rights Act
  • Not all changes called for in lawsuit will be implemented 

This comes just two weeks after several civil rights groups filed the lawsuit against the Florida Department of State and election supervisors in the 32 counties, including counties in Central Florida and the Tampa Bay area.

They include:  Alachua, Bay, Brevard, Charlotte, Citrus, Clay, Columbia, Duval, Escambia, Flagler, Hernando, Highlands, Indian River, Jackson, Lake, Leon, Levy, Manatee, Marion, Martin, Monroe, Okaloosa, Okeechobee, Pasco, Putnam, St. Johns, St. Lucie, Santa Rosa, Sarasota, Sumter, Taylor and Wakulla counties.

Filing the suit 

The suit claimed all were in violation of the Voting Rights Act, which requires counties to provide bilingual voting materials and resources. 

The issue came to light after the influx of Puerto Rican citizens in Florida following Hurricane Maria. 

Bilingual voting materials have been available in bigger Florida counties like Hillsborough and Pinellas, but not in some of the more rural counties.

What the ruling means

Judge Mark Walker's ruling requires the 32 counties to print sample ballots in Spanish that can be given to Spanish speaking voters at the polls so they can use them to navigate the English ballots they'll use to cast their votes. 

The counties must also post the Spanish sample ballots on their websites and post signs in Spanish at polling places making voters aware that they can ask for Spanish sample ballots, along with instructions on how to use them. 

In his decision, Walker also encouraged the counties to hire bilingual elections workers.

A win for civil rights groups

Local organizations that have been mobilizing the Puerto Rican community to vote in the midterms say this is a much-needed win.

"It is the most rational thing that I can think of," said Eliseo Santana, founder of Puerto Rico Connect. "After all, an American citizen has a right to vote, and how can an American citizen vote if they cannot understand what they're voting for?”  

Not all the changes called for in the lawsuit will be implemented, however. Walker did agree with the defendants that it would be nearly impossible to change election software and to redesign ballots before the Nov. 6 election.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.