ANCHORAGE — A federal trial began this week in a voting rights lawsuit filed by several Alaska villages, alleging the state has failed to provide accurate, complete translations of voting materials into Native languages.
State officials denied voting rights to Alaskans with limited English proficiency because voting information lacked Yup’ik, Cup’ik and Gwich’in translations, according to the lawsuit filed last year on behalf of four Native villages and elders with limited English skills.
The state says elections officials have taken all reasonable steps to implement standards for voting materials for non-English speakers that are equivalent to those for English speakers. The state Division of Elections provides several methods of oral language assistance, a trial brief says.
The case in which plaintiffs claim the state is violating language provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act went to trial Monday in Anchorage, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.
Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason ruled that the constitutional right to vote requires Alaska to translate all election materials into Native languages for voters lacking English skills.
Both sides had asked the judge to decide whether 1975 language amendments in the voting rights law required translations into historically unwritten languages. They also asked Gleason to rule on whether the 15th Amendment, which declares states could not use race or creed to restrict the right to vote, applied to the case.
The judge ruled that both were relevant.
The U.S. Department of Justice recently joined the case, saying in a June 3 filing that state elections officials were wrong in their approach to providing ballot help for Alaska Natives with limited English proficiency.
In a reply, the Alaska attorney general’s office said federal attorneys misunderstood its assertions and were overreaching the voting rights law.
Also this month, U.S. Attorney General Eric holder announced his office will consult with tribes across the country to develop ways to increase voting access for American Indians and Alaska Natives.