Feds: State must improve election info for Alaska Natives


A recent U.S. District Court ruling found that the state hasn’t done enough in the past to ensure Alaska Native voters can understand issues appearing on the ballot before election day. Challenges for the Alaska Division of Elections include adequately translating bureaucratic language, providing enough information in advance of election day and meeting the needs of voters who speak a different dialect of a particular Alaska Native language.

Currently the Alaska Division of Elections has made audio versions of the Nov. 4 ballot measures available in several Alaska Native languages: Central Yup’ik, Siberian Yup’ik, Inupiaq, Koyukon Athabascan and Gwich’in Athabascan. A written translation of the ballot is available in Yup’ik.

On its language assistance page, the state describes an approach that focuses on written translation assistance for languages that have historically been written, and oral assistance for languages that are historically unwritten (such as Alaska Native languages).

As a result of the recent court ruling, the state was required to craft a plan to meet the informational needs of Alaska Native voters in a more substantive way. The state released its plan on Sept. 9, saying it would work to let people know language assistance is available, will prepare outreach workers to give language assistance, and will address dialectical differences in ballot language translations.

Attorneys with the Native American Rights Fund, which represents Yup’ik and Gwich’in language speakers, responded with a request for additional changes before the Nov. 4 election.

A judge has yet to rule on the state’s plan and the response from plaintiffs.


Learn more

About language assistance (Alaska Division of Elections)

Alaska Native voters win another civil rights battle (Indian Country Today, Sept. 5, 2014)

State presents election translation plan (Alaska Public, Sept. 9, 2014)

Alaska Native speakers’ attorneys spell out election translation needs (KNBA, Sept. 16, 2014)