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.”
McCool testified as an expert on behalf of four tribal villages in Southwest Alaska and the Interior and two village elders with limited English skills. They’re suing Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and three officials in the Alaska Division of Elections which he oversees, saying the officials are not providing a full suite of election materials in their Native languages. They say amendments to the Voting Rights Act in 1975 require language assistance.
The state says it’s doing what the law requires, providing sample ballots and oral translations for some Native languages. The state has gone out of its way to consult with tribal councils, its witnesses have said.
Treadwell and the other officials are being defended by the Alaska Attorney General’s office. Before the trial began, the state lawyers attempted to prevent McCool from testifying, saying he wasn’t really an expert. They said he wasn’t familiar with Alaska and only spent four weeks or so researching how the state has treated Native voters over the years.