ANCHORAGE — An expert testifying in an Alaska Native voting rights trial says the state has a history of discrimination dating to pre-statehood.
University of Utah political science professor Daniel McCool testified Monday in the trial being heard by a federal judge in Anchorage. He said the state’s current failure to provide full language assistance to Native language speakers can be traced to territorial days, when Alaska Natives were not allowed citizenship unless they renounced their own culture.
“This represents the continuing organizational culture, looking at the law as something they’re forced to do, instead of looking at the policy goal of being sure that everyone has the opportunity to participate,” he said. “It’s part of a pattern I see over a long period of time, a consistent culture — they’re going to fight this. When forced to do something, they’re going to do it, but only when they’ve been ordered to.”
McCool testified on behalf of several Native villages and elders who say the state has failed to provide complete translations of voting materials into Native languages, the Anchorage Daily News reported. Plaintiffs are suing Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and elections officials he oversees. Plaintiffs say the state is violating language provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act.
The state contends its program meets legal requirements, providing sample ballots and oral translations for some Native languages. Witnesses for the state have said it has gone out of its way to consult with tribal councils.
Before the trial began, state lawyers tried to prevent McCool from testifying. They said he wasn’t really an expert, wasn’t familiar with Alaska and only spent about one month researching how the state has treated Native voters.
U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason disagreed and allowed McCool to testify.
In his testimony, McCool said Alaska’s history shows discrimination against Native voters, with some exceptions pushed by a few political leaders.
After Congress passed the Indian Citizenship Act in 1924, Alaska’s territorial legislature passed a literacy test that kept most Natives from voting, according to McCool. The state did not drop its literacy test until it was required to under the U.S. Voting Rights Act.