A settlement has been reached between the state and Alaska Native plaintiffs who sued in federal court over the translation of voting materials for voters with limited English proficiency. The proposed settlement filed Tuesday calls for the Alaska lieutenant governor’s office to hire a full-time employee to administer language assistance. Another significant provision in the agreement calls for the official state election pamphlet to include translations, plaintiffs’ attorney Natalie Landreth with the Native American Rights Funds said Thursday. It took the two sides about nine months to work out a settlement, she said. Landreth read a brief letter from one of the plaintiffs, Mike Toyukak of the village of Manokotak, thanking officials for working on resolving the case. “This is really a big deal for us, and we’re very happy that those who did not understand before will now be able to understand the voting ballots,” Landreth quoted Toyukak as writing.
Landreth gave particular praise to Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, who took office Dec. 1, saying he was key to resolving the matter. “The lieutenant governor, in particular, inherited a very difficult issue as soon as he walked into office,” she said at a media briefing. Mallott, who oversees elections, said implementing the changes will be difficult, but his office is fully committed to doing so.
Under the agreement, increased language assistance will be provided for three census areas. Also, the official election pamphlet will include information in Gwich’in and up to six Yup’ik dialects.
Mallott said the agreement will lead to stronger election procedures. He said it will allow the state to be responsive to the language needs of any Alaskan needing help and will “allow every voter the opportunity to have their voting information completely understood and allow them to make the most informed decisions as they vote possible.”