Desiline Victor, the 102-year-old North Miami voter who became a symbol of Floridas elections woes, could again find it tough to cast a ballot now that the state Senate voted Tuesday to keep a crackdown on foreign-language interpreters at the polls.
The Republican-controlled Senate maintained the last-minute measure on what appeared to be a party-line voice vote while debating a bill designed to reverse the effects of an election law that helped create long lines and suppress the vote in 2012.
On Election Day at Victors polling station, there were not enough interpreters for the Creole-speaking native of Haiti and hundreds like her. Turnout was heavy. And lines lasted for hours partly due to a slew of proposed state Constitutional amendments placed on the ballot by the Legislature.
My mom is a victim of this problem, said Victors godson, Mathieu Pierre-Louis, whom she raised as her own child. If theyre going to change something, it should be to make voting easier. Just make it easy.
Victor, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday, voted after an hours-long wait. Her struggle earned her an invitation and a shout-out from President Barack Obama at his State of the Union address.
Now, months later, Republicans began a whisper campaign that they suspected the interpreters were helping cast ballots on Election Day in Democrat-heavy North Miami.
Republican lawmakers inserted the language in the must-pass elections bill before it hit the Senate floor, limiting significant public testimony or the receipt of any evidence that interpreters acted unethically or in a partisan way.
This is a horrible amendment, said Sen. Oscar Braynon, a Democrat who represents the North Miami area where Victor voted. His amendment to strip out the language was defeated Tuesday.
During the election, we couldnt get enough interpreters, he said. The lines were long because of all the constitutional amendments. They were hard to read in English and they were even harder in Creole.
One liberal voting-rights group, Florida New Majority, threatened to sue.
The architect of the new elections bill, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, said his measure would not ban interpreters, but would limit those who use foreign-language speakers for partisan ends.
Its become kind of a political tool in many areas to have folks who stay at the precincts all day offering their services to go in and help people, and in many cases in an intimidating fashion, said Latvala. He provided no examples.
What it does away with, he said, is the right of someone to stand outside a polling place and say: I want to go in and help you because Im here. It limits one person being able to do that 10 times a day.
But thats a major change, says Braynon and liberal-leaning election-rights groups.
If a person can provide assistance to only 10 people, then certain precincts could have required as many as 50 interpreters during the 2012 elections, Braynon said.
We had trouble finding five people to help interpret, he said.
The new limitation could trigger a lawsuit because it violates the Voting Rights Act, which says any voter who cant read or write has a choice of who gets to help them, said Gihan Perera, executive director of the liberal Florida New Majority. He said translators are already regulated, and must submit affidavits to affirm they follow the law and act in a nonpartisan way.