Facing a civil rights advisory committee, multiple Alaskans expressed concerns over Alaska Native voting rights Thursday. From challenges with location to overcoming language barriers, a group of activists discussed some of the changes they say are still needed to improve Alaska Native voting rights, particularly for those in rural areas. In 2014, a ruling in a historic lawsuit shifted the way 29 communities of voters understand election information. As part of the settlement for the Toyukak v. Treadwell lawsuit voting materials were translated into Yup’ik and Gwich’in languages. Changes, Indra Arriaga, the elections language assistance compliance manager for the state of Alaska division of elections said could be seen in the 2016 Presidential Election.
“We expanded the glossary from 74 terms to 179 terms, we are doing audio glossaries. It was the first year we did the election pamphlet in Alaska Native languages so that was huge,” Arriaga said.
Some panelists say there’s still more work to do to allow the voices of voters in remote areas to be heard.
“Not having early voting in rural Alaska in the same extent as urban Alaska is one of the biggest challenges. Not having those poll workers in rural Alaska paid the same as those poll workers in urban Alaska is another challenge,” Nicole Borromeo, Executive Vice-President and General Counsel, Alaska Federation of Natives.