A federal judge on Friday ordered Gov. Rick Scott's chief elections officer to direct 32 counties to publish sample ballots in English and Spanish to help newly-arrived voters from Puerto Rico who have limited English skills.
Scott said through a spokesman that Florida will comply with the ruling.
U.S. District Judge Mark Walker issued a split decision that fell short of what voter advocacy groups had requested, including bilingual toll-free hot lines and bilingual ballots for the Nov. 6 general election.
The 32 counties must make available a similar sample ballot in Spanish to those printed English and the bilingual sample also must be on each of the counties' web sites.
Walker, who's known for strongly-worded opinions laced with colorful metaphors, and who has ruled against Scott's administration in several voting cases, began a 27-page order by writing: "Here we go again."
"The clock hits 6 a.m. Sonny and Cher's 'I Got You, Babe' starts playing … and the state of Florida is alleged to violate federal law in its handling of elections."
Walker also wrote in his order: "It is remarkable that it takes a coalition of voting rights organizations and individuals to sue in federal court to seek minimal compliance with the plain language of a venerable 53-year-old law."
Scott's administration tried to get the state dropped as a defendant in the case. In a statement Friday, Scott, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, issued this statement: "Florida is the world's greatest melting pot, and we don't want any registered voters to not be able to exercise their right because of a language barrier."
Noting that the state already provides all voting information on its web site in both languages, Scott said: "We are glad that more counties will do what we are already doing at the state level."
The judge referred to a provision in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed by President Lyndon Johnson, that specifically accommodates the language needs of voters from Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, if they completed the sixth grade in a non-English language school.
The Hispanic Federation, Mia Familia Vota Education Fund and other groups sued Secretary of State Ken Detzner to force bilingual ballots and election materials in the 32 counties, including Monroe, Pasco and Hernando.
"If this court denies all relief to plaintiffs, they will lose their right to a meaningful vote," Walker wrote. "This court would, in effect, be authorizing disenfranchisement."
But Walker concluded that if he approved all of their requests, it would impose "significant hardships" on election supervisors.
Detzner must tell the court he will comply with the order by Wednesday, Sept. 12.