ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — More Florida counties must provide election materials and ballots in Spanish, a federal judge has ruled.
An order Friday from U.S. District Judge Mark Walker expanded a temporary injunction that he had granted ahead of last fall's elections.
Under Walker's latest order, election supervisors in 32 more counties must provide ballots in Spanish by March 2020 when the presidential primary election is held. Fifteen counties already do so, and Walker's order would raise the total to almost four dozen of Florida's 67 counties.
"This case is about the fundamental right to cast a ballot," the judge wrote.
If a county holds an election before next March's primary election, elections supervisors must provide sample ballots in Spanish, according to the order.
The order also requires election supervisors to provide information in Spanish on their websites, recruit bilingual poll workers and have a bilingual hotline to assist Spanish-speaking voters during early voting.
The judge's order was in response to a lawsuit filed last year by a coalition of Latino civic groups as well as Puerto Ricans who had moved to Florida after Hurricane Maria in 2017 and said they didn't understand English well.
"I will not be able to vote effectively without access to Spanish-language elections materials," said one of the plaintiffs, Marta Valentina Rivera Madera, in a declaration filed in the case.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis last month directed the Florida Department of State to start rule-making that would expand the availability of ballots and elections material in Spanish throughout the state for the 2020 election cycle and beyond.
More than 4 million of Florida's 20 million residents speak Spanish at home, according to U.S. Census figures from the 2017 American Community Survey.
"Florida has a significant Spanish-speaking population and our state is home to many Puerto Ricans who moved here after the devastation of Hurricane Maria," the Republican governor said last month. "These fellow citizens should be able to fully participate in our democracy."
The judge praised the state's efforts to update rules expanding access to Spanish-language election materials, but he said there was no way of knowing when they would be finished. An order was necessary to ensure compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act, he said.
"What is clear is that the rules are currently not in place and elections will be held between now and then," the judge wrote.