ACLU of Florida Urges Election Officials to Mail Bilingual Instructions to Haitian American Voters

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
October 28, 2002 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Florida
Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

MIAMI — In a letter sent today to Miami-Dade County officials, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida urged the county to take immediate steps to mail sample English/Creole ballots and voting instructions to Haitian American voters in Miami-Dade County in time for the November 5 election.

“It is in everyone’s interest that all eligible voters have the opportunity to exercise their franchise, particularly in light of the dismal record this state’s electoral process has received in recent history,” said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida. “Haitian Americans are a major language community in Miami-Dade and deserve the attention afforded other residents of the county.”

Last Friday, the county announced its decision not to include the English/Creole versions of the sample ballots in a direct mail piece sent to approximately 867,000 households in Miami-Dade County, opting to mail only English/Spanish ballots. The county plans instead to place advertisements featuring English/Creole sample ballots in newspapers that serve the Haitian American community.

“We do not see how it is possible to employ one program — the mailing of sample ballots and instructional materials — to one of the County’s principal language communities, but not to the other,” the ACLU said in its letter to Miami-Dade County Manager Steve Shiver. “Miami-Dade County is a trilingual community. That is one of our strengths, and County programs should reflect that reality.”

The ACLU letter also asked Shiver to, at a minimum, mail English/Creole sample ballots “to all households within the 60 precincts previously designated by the county as being ones in which a significant portion of the electorate is Haitian-American.”

The full text of the ACLU letter follows.

October 28, 2002 Via fax

Steve Shiver, County Manager
Stephen P. Clark Center
111 NW First St., Suite 2910
Miami, FL 33128-1994

Re: Mailing of English/Creole Sample Ballots with Instructional Materials

Dear Mr. Shiver:

It is our understanding that the County has decided not to mail the English/Creole version of the sample ballot to voters in Miami-Dade County. While we are pleased with the decision to send a sample ballot, including a version of the “Make Your Vote Count” pamphlet prepared by the League of Women Voters of Dade County and the ACLU, the decision not to include the Creole-speaking members of our community in that mailing is greatly troubling.

Your intent to place the English/Creole sample ballot in newspapers that serve the County’s Haitian-American community is commendable, as are other efforts to distribute this material in the community. However, these efforts are no substitute for a direct mail piece in English/Creole to all households in precincts with a significant Haitian-American population.

On behalf of ourselves and the other organizations and individuals that comprise the Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition, we urge you to take immediate steps to reach the Haitian-American population with a mailing of the English/Creole sample ballot. At a minimum, English/Creole sample ballots should be mailed to all households located within the sixty precincts previously designated by the County as being ones in which a significant portion of the electorate is Haitian-American.

As you are aware, the language issue with respect to Creole is the subject of a Consent Decree that was the result of a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice against Miami-Dade County. In light of that, it is particularly troubling that the County believes that a different program for Spanish-speaking and Creole-speaking voters is not a problem. However, we urge you not view this as a matter of what may be required by any Consent Decree, but instead that you address this issue in light of what is required by considerations of fairness. We do not see how it is possible to employ one program – the mailing of sample ballots and instructional materials – to one of the County’s principal language communities, but not to the other.

We also urge that you view this as a necessary step to restore the community’s confidence in the County’s capacity to administer elections that are fair and open to all. While it may be true that Creole is more often spoken than written, it cannot be doubted that the mailing of sample ballots in Creole will be helpful. Creole-speakers who attend adult literacy classes and/or citizenship classes are first taught to read and write in their own language. Additionally, the mailing of such materials would go far toward encouraging civic responsibility by welcoming this significant population to the polling place.

We understand that the mailing of sample ballots is a first for the County, and we hope that there is a commitment to institutionalize this practice, used in other Florida Counties and other states, for future elections. However, Miami-Dade County is a trilingual community. That is one of our strengths, and County programs should reflect that reality. Time is of the essence. This matter must be addressed immediately in order to prevent unfair differential treatment.

Please contact us on Tuesday, October 29th to inform us of the plan that your office has made to address this crucial issue. You may call Howard Simon at 305 – 576 – 2337, ext. 14. Thank you.FONT>

Sincerely,

Howard Simon, Executive Director Lida Rodriguez-Taseff, President
ACLU of Florida Greater Miami ACLU

cc: Alex Penelas, Mayor
David Leahy, Supervisor of Elections
Board of County Commissioners, Miami-Dade County

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