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Latino civil rights groups sue 32 Florida counties for not providing bilingual voting material

The groups say the Voting Rights Act guarantees the right to vote to those who completed their basic schooling in a language "other than English."
Voters arrive to cast their ballots at a polling station in Christmas, Florida on November 8, 2016. Polling stations opened Tuesday as the first ballots were cast in the long-awaited election pitting Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump. / AFP PHOTO / Gregg NewtonGREGG NEWTON/AFP/Getty ImagesGREGG NEWTON / AFP - Getty Images

MIAMI — As the November midterm elections approach, several civic engagement groups filed a suit, on Thursday, against the Florida Secretary of State and 32 Florida counties for what they say is a violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, requiring bilingual voting materials and assistance be provided to Puerto Ricans.

The groups involved include Faith in Florida, Hispanic Federation, Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, UnidosUS, and Vamos4PR as well as individual voter Marta Rivera.

Back in April, Demo and atinoJustice/PRLDEF, who are representing the plaintiffs along with the firm Altshuler Berzon, sent letters to Supervisors of Elections in 13 counties urging them to provide bilingual voting materials to the increasing number of Puerto Ricans who are now living in Florida.

In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act, which outlawed discriminatory voting practices. Until that time, many African-Americans, mainly in the South, faced obstacles in order to vote, which included taking a literacy test, and paying poll taxes.

Section 4E of the Act guarantees the right to register and vote for those with limited English and specifically points out Puerto Ricans. It states that registering and voting cannot be denied to those “who have completed the 6th grade in a public school, such as those in Puerto Rico, where the predominant classroom language is a language other than English,” according to the Justice Department website.

The groups say that counties in Florida are obligated to provide bilingual ballots, election materials, and poll worker assistance to these voters.

After Hurricane Maria ravaged the island 11 months ago, over 56,000 Puerto Ricans have relocated to Florida according to the most recent data from the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York.

They are joining a massive wave that began in 2006 because of the island’s economic crisis. The Puerto Rican population in Florida shot up from 479,000 in 2000 to over 1 million in 2015, according to the Pew Research Center.