A federal judge directed Alaska election officials on Monday to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act by expanding their language outreach to Yup’ik- and Gwich’in-speaking villagers for the November election U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason told state officials they must provide written translations of most of the important election materials they give to English-speaking voters, including candidate statements in the official election pamphlet mailed to every voter in Alaska. She also directed them to increase six-fold the number of hours that bilingual outreach workers are paid to help Yup’ik and Gwich’in speakers understand the ballot and their right to vote. She ordered state officials to provide material in Yup’ik dialects when Central Yup’ik would be misunderstood in the Dillingham and Wade Hampton census areas.
Gleason said she was issuing her order on an interim basis for just the coming election and provided a series of timed steps by which to measure compliance. The final date is Nov. 28, at which time the state is supposed to file a post-election report explaining whether it met Gleason’s targets, and if not, why. Gleason can hold state officials in contempt if her order is not met.
Natalie Landreth, an attorney with the nonprofit Native American Rights Fund who brought the case last year on behalf of two village elders and four traditional tribal councils, said Gleason’s order could help Native Americans throughout the country.
“We’re thrilled with the content of the interim order,” Landreth said. “This sets the standard for Native language speakers nationwide. This is going to set the standard for people on the Lakota reservations in South Dakota, it helps in the Southwest. She’s done something that’s really desperately needed.”