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Woman sues over lack of Spanish ballot

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Rachael Jackson | Sentinel Staff Writer
November 26, 2008


A Deltona woman has sued the Volusia County supervisor of elections, contending that, as a Puerto Rican, she should have been able to cast her vote in Spanish.

But county lawyers say her case is unfounded and point out that Spanish speakers are already offered assistance at Volusia County polling sites.

Crimilda Perez-Santiago, with the help of New York-based LatinoJustice PRLDEF, filed suit on Election Day because she said she had trouble understanding the ballot, particularly the state constitutional amendments.

Last week, the county filed a motion to dismiss the case, pointing out that Volusia does not meet a federal threshold of English-limited citizens that requires the county to print ballots in a foreign language. The motion also stressed other efforts the county makes, such as hiring bilingual poll workers and offering nearly all elections materials in Spanish.


"We've done everything we can up to having a bilingual ballot," said Volusia Elections Supervisor Ann McFall, adding that it costs more to print. "If we get our chance to show it in court, it will be apparent."

If 5 percent of a county's residents have limited English abilities, the county is required by federal law to print bilingual ballots. Orange and Osceola counties meet the threshold. As of the last census in 2000, Volusia did not, but McFall said she expects the county will in 2010.

Perez-Santiago would not comment through LatinoJustice.

Her attorney, Diana Sen, who works for LatinoJustice, said the county's efforts haven't been successful in reaching Spanish-speaking voters.

"If they had anything available, people didn't know about it," she said, adding that the ballot was the most critical element. "Let's face it. If you don't have the ballot in Spanish, what does it matter if the other materials are in Spanish?"

Sen, who said she hopes efforts in Volusia lead to changes across the country, said that a provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 guarantees Puerto Ricans the right to a ballot printed in Spanish.

Attorneys for the county have responded that the bilingual-ballot provisions of the 1965 act don't yet apply in Volusia County. The county's motion also pointed out that Perez-Santiago did not raise language concerns with bilingual poll workers.

Seminole County Elections Supervisor Mike Ertel, whose office also doesn't print bilingual ballots but expects to in 2010, said the law could be read different ways. If you interpret it the way Perez-Santiago's lawyers do, he said, "Every county in the country would have to have a bilingual ballot."

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