Lawsuit results in Volusia County Accord

April 16, 2010
Contact: John Garcia, PRLDEF, (212) 739-7513

In a case that could have significant impact throughout Florida, Volusia County has agreed to a court-supervised stipulation that will markedly expand Spanish language assistance to voters to settle a voting rights case.

Starting with the 2010 election cycle, Volusia County agreed to provide all sample ballots in Spanish and to train poll workers to provide Spanish language assistance in targeted areas where significant numbers of Latino voters reside.

For 2012, Volusia County agreed to provide bilingual ballots in English and Spanish and to provide one Spanish language interpreter in every precinct in which 15% of the registered voters are Hispanic.

The lawsuit was brought by LatinoJustice PRLDEF on behalf of four Puerto Rican voters and the Volusia County Hispanic Association who claimed that under the Voting Rights Act they were entitled to language assistance, including translated ballots. Section 4E of the Act provides that people educated in an American-flag school in which the language of instruction is not English cannot be denied the vote because they do not read or write English. The courts have interpreted this to mean that such individuals should receive Spanish-language assistance.

United States District Court Judge John Antoon II had previously ruled that Volusia County could be forced to translate ballot materials and provide Spanish-language assistance to voters who need it.

“While it is native-born citizens from Puerto Rico who must be provided Spanish Language assistance, all Latinos throughout Florida will now have a better opportunity to cast an informed vote,” said Cesar Perales, President and General Counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “Other counties in Florida are now on notice that Puerto Ricans and other Latinos will claim their rights at the voting booth.”

Counties in Florida with large general Hispanic populations are already required under Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act to provide language assistance during elections. Broward and Miami-Dade counties fall under this provision and provide Spanish language assistance, including bilingual ballots, during elections.

But under a separate provision, counties with smaller Puerto Rican populations (like Volusia, Duval, Lee, Seminole, Pinellas and Polk) could also be forced to provide translated ballots and additional Spanish language assistance if they have Puerto Rican residents who need language assistance.

The lawsuit alleged that when the plaintiffs attempted to vote in Volusia County on Nov. 4, 2008, they “were denied Spanish language ballots and appropriate Spanish language assistance to ensure they were able to cast their vote effectively…”

The plaintiffs are Crimilda Perez-Santiago, Carmen Fortis, Edwin Fortis, Madelyn Perez and the Volusia County Hispanic Association.

“By making these changes, Volusia County has shown that it recognizes that Latinos are an important part of this community and that they are entitled to fully understand the ballot and make an informed vote,” said LatinoJustice PRLDEF Associate Attorney Diana Sen.

The United States Department of Justice twice submitted amicus briefs supporting LatinoJustice’s case in order to compel the county to comply with 4E.

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