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.
The emails were entered as an exhibit Thursday in the Voting Rights Act trial brought by four tribal organizations and two southwestern village elders against Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, the state’s top election official, and three of his deputies. The trial, in its fourth day, is being heard in U.S. District Court in Anchorage.
The plaintiffs, represented by the nonprofit Native American Rights Fund, say the U.S. Voting Rights Act requires the state to accurately translate all English election material into Yup’ik, Cup’ik and Gwich’in and are seeking an order forcing the state to comply. The state says its more modest language program, translating some ballot language into Yup’ik, using touch-screen ballot machines with audio translations at some precincts, and providing bilingual interpreters at most village polling places, meets the requirement of law.