Late September featured more than a mere drop in temperatures for Alaska residents, as U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason issued an interim order that would shake the state’s electoral landscape. The order came in response to Toyukak v. Treadwell, a case in which the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) accused Republican Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell and others of violating the Voting Rights Act’s (VRA) Section 203 language assistance provision. The order required, largely, that language assistance be provided to Yup’ik- and Gwich’in-speaking natives, who hoped for a chance to participate in the political process. Notably, in Alaska, nearly one in every five individuals is native.
By November 28 of this year, Alaska’s Division of Elections, which Lt. Governor Treadwell heads, must submit “a comprehensive report to the [U.S. District] Court detailing its compliance. . . .” In consequence, despite Treadwell’s professed obedience, detailed analysis of that compliance will be for another day. Importantly, though, significant changes have come to Alaska through the efforts of the Division, the state legislature, and organizations committed to native voting rights.
Each year, the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) holds a convention which, the organization claims, is “the largest representative annual gathering in the United States of any Native peoples.” Interestingly, Treadwell spoke at this year’s convention, which took place on October 23. The Lt. Governor praised voter turnout increases among young and Alaska Native voters. Additionally, Treadwell commended the state’s Division of Elections, saying the group has “more than doubled the number of early voting locations since 2012, by establishing 128 polling places in time for the 2014 cycle.” Indeed, Treadwell claimed the 2014 ballots as being “the most widely available in state history.” Perhaps this is political speak, but in the tune of Judge Gleason’s demands, it at least appears that Treadwell is now working to help the Alaska Native cause.