Trial is scheduled for next month in a case alleging failure by the state to provide accurate, complete translations of voting materials into Alaska Native languages. The lawsuit was brought by several Native villages and elders last year against Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and members of the Divisions of Elections, which Treadwell oversees. The Yup’ik, Cup’ik and Gwich’in speakers in the lawsuit allege the state is violating language provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act by not providing election materials in their Native languages. The state, in court filings, defends its Native languages program as robust, involving outreach to villages, bilingual poll workers and translated ballots. While the program may not be perfect, the law doesn’t demand perfection, only that “all reasonable steps” be taken to assure voters who speak limited English are “effectively informed of, and participate effectively in, voting-connected activities,” the state contends.
Natalie Landreth, lead attorney in the case with the Native American Rights Fund, said if the state provides written material in English, the law requires a translated Yup’ik version, too. “It doesn’t mean you can try pretty hard,” she said, “you have to actually do it.”
Walkie Charles, an assistant professor of Native languages at the University of Alaska Fairbanks who is expected to be a key witness for the plaintiffs, wrote in a report that he has spoken Yup’ik all his life and should be able to understand a ballot written in that language with ease. But he said he had to ask for an English version of a 2010 ballot measure he reviewed to compare the two and try to discern the meaning, the Anchorage Daily News reported.