Yup'ik speaking voters still troubled at the polls

Posted: Thursday, February 05, 2009

ANCHORAGE - Concerns about Alaska's Yup'ik voters ability to translate ballots continues to play out in U.S. District Court.

Lawyers for Yup'ik speaking voters insist the state had not provided enough translation help during three separate elections last year.

In describing a ballot measure on predator control, the state used the word "takukaq."

But in one Yup'ik dialect, it means "brown bear" and, in a coastal dialect, it means "seal," the lawyers said.

"As a result, voters on the coast (a predominantly Yup'ik-speaking area) read a ballot that indicated seals would be shot because they had been consuming too many moose calves and were depleting the population a nonsensical prospect," lawyers wrote in a motion filed in U.S. District Court last week.

Last summer, U.S. District Judge Timothy Burgess ordered the state to make changes to accommodate the Yup'ik speaking voters for several elections.

Changes include: recruit bilingual poll workers or translators in the Bethel census area; create sample ballots in Yup'ik and a Yup'ik glossary; review of all translated materials for accuracy with Yup'ik experts, and hire someone who is fluent in Yup'ik.

Not all of the of the requirements happened, said Jason Brandeis, of the ACLU of Alaska.

"That is very disappointing because not only is the state not in compliance, but their lack of assistance affects so many Yup'ik people who just want to be able to understand what they are voting for," Brandeis wrote in an e-mail.

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