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.
The lawsuit named state officials as defendants, including Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, whose office oversees elections, and Director of Elections Gail Fenumiai. Attorneys for the state argued in court, in a nine-day trial that started in June, that the elections officials had done enough by providing voter outreach and translators in the villages.
But Gleason agreed instead with the plaintiffs, who said that the election-day translations did not inform Native language speakers on important aspects of the election, such as the candidates’ positions or details of ballot measures, plaintiffs’ attorney Natalie Landreth said in an interview Wednesday.