A perfectly timed combination of negotiation and grassroots organizing has allowed numerous Native villages across Alaska to become absentee in-person voting locations for federal elections for the first time. That’s a sea change from just a few weeks ago, when voters in only about 30 Native villages had a way to cast a ballot ahead of Election Day, said Nicole Borromeo, general counsel of the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN). Meanwhile, Alaska’s urban voters had 15 days to do so. The locations will be in place for the August primary. This transformation in voting access follows years of fruitless requests to the state for the election services by three groups: AFN, an organization of regional and village corporations, tribes and other entities; ANCSA Regional Association, a group of Native-corporation CEOs; and Get Out The Native Vote. “In late June, AFN and ANCSA sat down with the state and said, ‘we will sign up the locations,’” recalled Borromeo, who is Athabascan from McGrath Native Village. The state agreed, and the Native team began seeking groups and individuals to handle the election activities.
Articles about voting issues in Alaska.
A top Alaska elections official testifying in a federal Native voting rights trial disputed claims that villages with sizable populations of limited English speakers vote in lower proportions than elsewhere in the state. Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai took the stand Wednesday as the state’s last witness in the Voting Rights Act lawsuit filed by village tribal organizations and elders against her and other election officials. Fenumiai testified that most of the village precincts beat the state’s average turnout in the 2012 presidential election if only precinct-level turnout numbers were examined, the Anchorage Daily News (http://is.gd/5OYggI ) reported. Fenumiai’s office, however, provides more voter services in urban areas, such as easy access to early voting and absentee balloting. She said voters who cast absentee or early ballots aren’t counted in the turnout numbers of their home precincts.
Alaska: Expert in Native voting rights trial says Alaska has long history of discrimination | Anchorage
An expert testifying in the federal voting rights trial in Anchorage said Monday it’s possible to trace Alaska’s current failure to provide full language assistance to Native language speakers to territorial days when Alaska Natives were denied citizenship unless they renounced their own culture. ”This represents the continuing organizational culture, looking at the law as something they’re forced to do, instead of looking at the policy goal of being sure that everyone has the opportunity to participate,” said University of Utah political science professor Daniel McCool. “It’s part of a pattern I see over a long period of time, a consistent culture — they’re going to fight this. When forced to do something, they’re going to do it, but only when they’ve been ordered to.”
The official who coordinated the Division of Election’s Yup’ik language program knew the translation for a radio announcement was off but suggested ignoring it anyway. Emails entered as exhibits during a federal voting-rights trial include a 2009 back-and-forth between the division’s then-language coordinator in Bethel, Dorie Wassilie, and her boss, Shelly Growden. The emails came in the midst of a prior lawsuit, settled in 2010. Wassilie, in her email, said the division would be criticized by the plaintiffs if they caught it, “but what the heck, it’s a similar word and hope that it goes right over their heads! :-)” Wassilie, a Yup’ik speaker, wrote to Growden. Growden, who does not speak Yup’ik, responded: “I too think it should be fine.”
The official who oversaw the state Election Division’s Yup’ik language program knew that a mangled translation about absentee balloting was running on radio in Bethel and Dillingham in 2009 but told her bosses to just ignore it. Instead of saying “absentee voting,” the notice on KYUK and KDLG said, “to be voting for a long time.” ”We will be criticized by the plaintiffs if they catch it, but what the heck, it’s a similar word and hope that it goes right over their heads! :-)” Dorie Wassilie, the Election Division’s language coordinator in Bethel and a Yup’ik speaker, wrote in Sept. 17, 2009, email to her boss, Shelly Growden. Growden, who doesn’t speak Yup’ik, agreed with Wassilie’s judgment. “I too think it should be fine,” Growden replied.
Alaska: Trial opens in lawsuit claiming Alaska denied Native rights in voting material translations | Associated Press
A federal trial began this week in a voting rights lawsuit filed by several Alaska villages, alleging the state has failed to provide accurate, complete translations of voting materials into Native languages. State officials denied voting rights to Alaskans with limited English proficiency because voting information lacked Yup’ik, Cup’ik and Gwich’in translations, according to the lawsuit filed last year on behalf of four Native villages and elders with limited English skills. The state says elections officials have taken all reasonable steps to implement standards for voting materials for non-English speakers that are equivalent to those for English speakers. The state Division of Elections provides several methods of oral language assistance, a trial brief says.
A federal trial is underway to determine whether the State of Alaska does enough to serve voters who speak Native languages. Toyukuk v. Treadwell was brought by two Alaska Native voters, along with two tribal councils. Natalie Landreth, an attorney with the Native American Rights Fund, is arguing the case. She says there’s a “huge amount” of voting information available to people who speak English, Spanish, and Tagalog, compared to the amount of materials for speakers of Yup’ik and Gwich’in. Landreth says the disparity amounts to discrimination.
Originally, it was thought that holding Kenai Peninsula Borough elections by mail would be more cost effective, but according to a fiscal note, it would actually cost more money. “I was disappointed because I initially thought … that we could actually save money, but the extra printing and postage costs added up,” said assembly member Bill Smith. However, the assumed savings were a secondary consideration, Smith said about an ordinance he sponsored to require vote-by-mail elections. His main motive is to increase voter participation. A public hearing on the ordinance is scheduled for tonight’s borough assembly meeting.
With little discussion and unanimous approval, some Kenai Peninsula Borough district lines have shifted slightly. The borough assembly OK’d revisions to six assembly and board of education district boundaries at its Tuesday meeting last week. The changes stem from the Division of Election’s adjusted precinct boundaries for Alaska Legislative Senate and House of Representatives districts, which were finalized in February. The assembly-approved revisions eliminate some discrepancies between precinct and district boundaries to eliminate the need for multiple ballots in the adjusted areas.
A federal judge on Wednesday overruled state election officials and said the constitutional right to vote requires Alaska to translate all election materials into Native languages for voters with limited English skills. Siding with village plaintiffs in a voting rights lawsuit against Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and three other Alaska election officials, U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason ruled that as a matter of law, the state is obligated to match all English materials — including pamphlets, instructions, registration materials and ballots — with Yup’ik, Cup’ik and Gwich’in translations. Gleason still plans to conduct a trial at the end of the month into whether the state Elections Division, headed by Treadwell, is in violation of the U.S. Voting Rights Act’s language requirements, and if so, what remedial steps should be taken. The lawsuit was brought by the Anchorage office of the nonprofit Native American Rights Fund on behalf of four Native villages in western Alaska and the Interior and two Western Alaska elders with limited English proficiency. Treadwell is running for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.