Lawsuit filed on behalf of Alaska Native voters Feb 14, 2008 14:44:40 GMT -5
Post by blackcrowheart on Feb 14, 2008 14:44:40 GMT -5
Lawsuit filed on behalf of Alaska Native voters
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A federal lawsuit was filed Monday on behalf of
Native voters in the Bethel area in southwestern Alaska whose primary
language is Yup'ik.
The lawsuit filed by the Native American Rights Fund and the American
Civil Liberties Union of Alaska seeks to have state and regional
election officials provide oral and written voter assistance to
Yup'ik-speaking voters in the Bethel area.
The lawsuit would require that elections officials come up with a plan
to ensure that Yup'ik-speaking voters with limited English are able to
understand, learn about and participate "in all phases of the electoral
process." It would require that federal observers be on hand for
elections held in the Bethel area.
The lawsuit was filed against various state and local elections
officials, including Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell and Whitney Brewster,
director of the state Division of Elections. Neither immediately
returned calls for comment. The lieutenant governor's office said he had
not yet seen a copy of the lawsuit.
The lawsuit says the problem extends beyond providing an official ballot
for federal, state and local elections that voters can read. Officials
also have failed to translate a host of other written voting materials
including advertisements for voter registration, election dates,
absentee voting opportunities, polling place locations and voting
Under the federal Voting Rights Act, primarily Yup'ik speaking voters in
the Bethel area are entitled to written voting materials in Yup'ik as
well as oral assistance so that those voters can participate
meaningfully in the electoral process, said Natalie Landreth, lawyer for
the Native American Rights Fund.
"These populations are subject to English-only ballots," she said at a
news conference at Alaska's ACLU offices. However, "they have limited
use and understanding of English."
The lawsuit says election officials also have failed to provide an
adequate pool of bilingual poll officials.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of three registered voters: Anna Nick,
69, of Akiachak; Billy McCann, 78, of Bethel; and Nellie Moses, 72, of
Akiachak. All the plaintiffs have limited English and are considered
illiterate by the U.S. Census Bureau because they have a fifth-grade
education or less, according to the lawsuit.
Landreth said what is being provided now is woefully insufficient —
usually a single sentence of explanation on what are sometimes very
complex ballot measures.
What ends up happening is that either voters don't cast a ballot because
they are confused or find out later they've voted the wrong way and
inadvertently hurt their communities, she said.
"It is a terrible choice for many people in these communities," she
said. "It is completely beyond a doubt that they are not casting a
The lawsuit is targeting the Bethel area because that is where the
problem is worst, said Jason Brandeis, an attorney with the ACLU of
Alaska. He hopes that if the lawsuit is successful it will extend to
other areas of Alaska.
"Our Constitution says everyone in our democracy has a right to vote,"
Brandeis said in a statement. "But that right is meaningless if certain
groups are unable to cast their ballots accurately regardless of how
well-informed they are about the issues of the day."
Brandeis said the Voting Rights Act has been successful in providing
other minority communities in the United States with what's needed to
vote in a meaningful way.
"In San Diego County, Calif., registration among Hispanics and Filipinos
rose by 20 percent and Vietnamese registrations increased by 40 percent
after a suit initiated by the Department of Justice. In New York City,
language assistance has helped more than 100,000 Asian-Americans to
vote," Brandeis said.
Alaska is one of five states that is completely covered under the
language assistance provisions of the federal voting law, Landreth said.
About 19 percent of the population is Alaska Native or American Indian.
The other states are Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.
Becka Baker, elections supervisor for the Nome Regional Elections Office
who also is named as a defendant, said she couldn't comment until she'd
seen a copy of the lawsuit.