The state of Alaska is proposing several changes in how they deliver voting information to Alaska Natives whose first language is Yup’ik or Gwich’in. The state is offering the changes after a federal judge issued a decision in a voting rights lawsuit last week. U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason ordered the state to better help voters who speak Yup’ik and Gwich’in understand their ballots. Elizabeth Bakalar is the lead attorney for the state on the case. She says that the state is focused on three areas: “That voters need better information ahead of the election that language assistance is available, that outreach workers need to be better prepared to provide language assistance voters especially prior to election day and to better address certain dialectical differences. So those are the three areas which the interim remedies we’re proposing are meant to target and certainly any long term remedies would probably target those areas as well.” Bakalar explains, the state is preparing different versions of ballot language to send to tribal councils and outreach workers to reflect different dialects. She says they’re looking for feedback from speakers.
Articles about voting issues in Alaska.
The state of Alaska says it will do a better job offering language assistance to its native population following a federal court ruling this week. The ruling marks the end of a legal campaign that began a year ago when the state was sued by four tribes and two native voters for failing to provide sufficient ballot language assistance. After a nine-day trial earlier this summer, U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason on Wednesday issued her ruling, asking the state to submit a proposal by Friday for changes that could be implemented before the November election. “This case boils down to one issue,” Natalie Landreth, an attorney with the Native American Rights Fund, which filed the lawsuit with two national law firms, said in a statement following the ruling. “English speakers receive a 100-page Official Election Pamphlet before every election and Yup’ik speaking voters have been receiving three things: the date of the election, the time of the election, and a notice that language assistance will be available at the poll. That’s it. That is a very clear violation of the law, and it has to change, now.”
Alaska: Judge: Election officials broke voting rights law; must help Yup’ik, Gwich’in voters | Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
State elections officials broke a federal voting rights law by failing to provide sufficient election information in Alaska Native languages, a U.S. District Court judge ruled Wednesday, causing the state to scramble for improvements before the November election. Attorneys with the Native American Rights Fund filed a federal lawsuit in 2013 on behalf of four Alaska Native village councils and two Native men alleging the state violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act by failing to provide translated voting materials for voters who do not speak and read English. The villages — Venetie, Arctic Village, Togiak and Hooper Bay — as well as Manokotak resident Mike Toyukak and Alakanuk resident Fred Augustine, were denied their voting rights, because the state did not provide an election pamphlet translated to Gwich’in or Yup’ik, Gleason ruled.
A federal judge in Anchorage ruled Wednesday morning that the state elections division violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act by failing to provide ballot and candidate information in Native languages to Yup’ik and Gwich’in speakers in three rural regions of Alaska. In a big victory for Native rights advocates, U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason rejected the state’s assertions that it had done enough in Southwest Alaska and the Interior by providing bilingual poll workers and “outreach” personnel. Gleason said the state’s effort failed to provide “substantially similar” information in Native languages as it does in English. While the plaintiffs – two Yup’ik-speaking elders and four federally recognized village tribes – had sought to have all election materials made available in Native languages, Gleason focused on the official election pamphlet sent to all residents of Alaska in English. The state didn’t do enough to help voters with limited English proficiency gain access to the information in the pamphlet, she said.
Alaska: Democrat and independent challengers to Gov. Sean Parnell negotiate merging campaigns | Associated Press
The two challengers to Gov. Sean Parnell are discussing uniting their campaigns, representatives of the candidates said Monday. Democrat Byron Mallott and independent candidate Bill Walker were in their second day of discussions Monday about whether they would run as a bipartisan or non-partisan ticket, Mallott spokeswoman Laury Scandling said in an email to The Associated Press. A formal statement was expected by noon Tuesday, said Scandling, who added that she plans to leave the campaign at the same time. Any changes to the ballot have to be made by Tuesday.
Alaska Native voters in the Yukon-Kuskokwim region of Western Alaska gave the Yup’ik language primary ballot translations mixed reviews. All eight of the Yup’ik voters that KYUK talked with said they needed help understanding what they were voting on. Elder Jacob Nelson is originally from the coastal village of Kwigilingok. He moved to Bethel in the 1970′s and he speaks mostly Yup’ik, and very little English. He says leading up to Alaska’s primary election, he heard some information on the radio in his language about an oil tax referendum. “I only ever heard about the ballot initiative on radio, not from anyone else.”
Ahead of tomorrow’s primary elections in Alaska, every voter in the state should have received a pamphlet that introduces the candidates, describes ballot issues and explains how to vote. The pamphlets are available in Spanish and Tagalog — but not Yup’ik, a language spoken by Alaska Natives, even though it is among the most commonly spoken languages in the state. At least 10,000 people speak Yup’ik, according to the Alaska Native Language Center at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. It’s the second-most-spoken Native language in the U.S., after Navajo. Many speakers live in the community of Bethel or surrounding smaller rural villages in southwestern Alaska.
Ballot Measure 1 takes up more than a page of Alaska’s primary ballot. It includes technical information about tax credits for North Slope producers, and explains how a barrel of Alaska oil is valued and taxed. Many voters, however, say they’re confused by what otherwise would be a simple yes-or-no vote on the measure, which seeks to repeal Senate Bill 21. ”I’ve seen a lot of ‘No on 1’ and ‘Yes on 1’ signs, but it’s really confusing what it means,” said voter Jenny Lynes. In Ballot Measure 1’s case, voting “yes” at the polls actually means “no” to SB21, Gov. Sean Parnell’s reduction of oil taxes passed by the state Legislature and signed into law in 2013. A “no” vote actually means “yes” to keeping the law on the books. The legislation itself is also complex, setting a tax rate for oil produced in the state and the profits for oil companies and the state of Alaska. The law went into effect in January of this year. It’s the only ballot question facing voters in the Aug. 19 primary.
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.
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.