Justice Department to monitor primary elections in 5 FL countiesby Dara Kam | August 13th, 2012
The U.S. Department of Justice, suing Gov. Rick Scott’s administration over his voter purge of non-citizens, will monitor elections tomorrow in five Florida counties tomorrow to make sure Spanish-speaking voters aren’t discriminated against and get the help they need.
Two of the five counties – Collier and Hendry – are among jurisdictions covered under the 1965 Voting Rights Act that had a history of discrimination. The other three counties – Lee, Osceola and Polk – are required to provide Spanish-language ballots and have Spanish-speaking poll workers to help voters.
“The Voting Rights Act prohibits discrimination in the election process on the basis of race, color or membership in a minority language group. In addition, the act requires certain covered jurisdictions to provide language assistance during the election process. Collier, Hendry, Lee, Osceola and Polk Counties, as well as the city of Milwaukee, are required to provide language assistance in Spanish,” the Justice Department said in a press release issued this morning.
Osceola County is apparently under federal scrutiny due to a history of problems related to Hispanic voters, according to the county’s supervisor Mary Jane Arrington. The county made a settlement with the Justice Department a decade ago and avoided a federal lawsuit by agreeing to give Hispanic voters help casting their ballots.
“We’ve had problems in the past. They’ve been corrected but I think they’re just here checking to make sure we’re performing as we should. We certainly welcome their scrutiny,” Arrington, who was elected as supervisor in 2008, said.
Arrington said the Justice Department lawyer told her the federal oversight has nothing to do with Scott’s voter purge in which state officials tried to scrub the voting rolls of noncitzens.
Hendry County Supervisor of Elections Lucretia Strickland said she did not ask the Justice Department why she was being monitored and that the feds had overseen elections in her county previously.
“It doesn’t matter to me. If they want to monitor, I’m certainly going to let them,” Strickland said. “If they would like to observe, I don’t’ have any problem with that.”
Collier County Supervisor of Elections Jennifer Edwards said she is meeting with a Justice Department lawyer later today to learn more about why her county was targeted.
In Polk County, the federal scrutiny was apparently sparked by Spanish-language ballots being offered for the first time, a source said.
Eleven counties in Florida, including Palm Beach, are required to provide Spanish-language ballots because of their Hispanic populations. The counties must also have at least one Spanish-speaking poll worker to provide assistance to voters and conduct bi-lingual voter education.
The Justice Department has monitored elections throughout the country, including in Texas, Wisconsin, Georgia and New York.