In 2006 before the Congressional re-authorization of the Voting Rights Act (which US Chief Justice John Roberts thinks is unnecessary) Civil Rights.org produced a report regarding Florida and the Voting Rights Act’s implementation since the 1982 redistricting process.
An interesting observation was found here regarding language minorities:
A recent and ongoing history of discrimination against language minority groups with respect to the exercise of the right to vote is well-documented in Florida. The discrimination has been particularly prevalent in areas that have experienced substantial growth in the language minority population, including Miami-Dade County and much of central Florida. Section 203 remains necessary to protect this population.
Keep in mind nowhere in the United States Constitution does it state English is the official language of the country nor does it state that English is the sole language of government. Florida’s Division of Elections and Legislative Chambers lack a Spanish language website with appropriate information even though over 20% of Florida’s population counts Spanish as its native tongue.
While Florida voters passed an amendment to the State Constitution in 1988 deeming English the “official language” of the state, that should not prevent the state from providing access to the ballot in multiple languages. Furthermore, that amendment was passed in a wave of xenophobia that spread the state after the 1980 Mariel Boat-lift and subsequent urban riots in Miami. The amendment received strong support from otherwise liberal white voters in southeast Florida as well as many Democrats throughout the rest of the state. In hindsight, the amendment which I personally believe violates the spirit of “equal protection under the law” guaranteed in the United States Constitution should never have been allowed to appear on the ballot.
Unless you are in Miami-Dade County where it is possible to function without knowing English, no real incentive remains for language minority groups to not learn the predominant language in the state of Florida. Thus, the idea of the state institutionally discriminating based on native tongue is troubling. Providing basic information in Spanish even if the person knows English as a second language should be required in this state.
It is fair as a state to determine English is the language of Government, though even that potentially disenfranchises citizens from the process. However, to consider a language “official” for no purpose other than xenophobia (Florida even in its most racist days had never considered the need for this to be in the state’s constitution) is shameful.
The conclusion of the report was the following:
the lingering effects of Florida’s recent – and nationally prominent – voting failures have eroded confidence in Florida’s electoral system , particularly among its minority voters. While Section 5 is not a panacea, maintaining a framework of federal scrutiny for Florida’s voting changes is important in regaining and retaining public confidence in the system. It is also vital in ensuring that voting changes are scrutinized for their fairness to minority voters. Sections 203 and 4 continue to be essential to guarantee an opportunity for meaningful participation in the electoral process by Florida’s language minorities.
You can view the entire extensive report here.