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Treadwell Reacts to Native Voting Rights Ruling

September 3, 2014, Anchorage, AK – Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell said the State of Alaska’s Division of Elections will expand efforts to provide language assistance to Alaska Natives to comply with a partial legal ruling related to the Voting Rights Act (VRA) made by U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason today in Toyukak v. Treadwell.

In July 2013, two individual voters and four tribal councils sued the Alaska Division of Elections, alleging that the state’s efforts to provide language assistance to Yup’ik and Gwich’in-speaking voters in three census areas of the state violated the VRA and the U.S. Constitution.

The Division of Elections currently provides translators and bilingual outreach and poll workers in both Yup’ik and Gwich’in, and because these languages are historically unwritten, the majority of language assistance in these languages is oral.

A nine-day trial occurred in June 2014, and today’s ruling addresses only the VRA claims and not the constitutional claims.

“As Lt. Governor, chair of the Alaska Historical Commission, and former chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, I have worked hard to help preserve languages spoken by Alaska's original inhabitants,” Treadwell said.

“I know the Division of Elections worked to comply with federal laws on language assistance as we understood them. The plaintiffs in this case did not contact us in advance of the lawsuit to suggest there were any problems with the language assistance being provided, and despite having observed elections in Alaska, the Department of Justice never contacted us with their interpretation of the law stated in the court proceedings, nor did they institute their own action or intervene in this case. 

“Though we are disappointed with the court’s ruling, we will work expeditiously to comply with it and with any additional measures that may be forthcoming in the court’s written opinion. In the meantime, Alaska's native and non-native voters need to know that the Division of Elections is committed to ballot access. We will continue to work with Alaska Native leaders and others to improve, and I view today's decision as an opportunity to expand our efforts.”

Previous efforts include adding 128 new absentee voting locations statewide, which more than doubled the locations available in 2012. Absentee voting by online ballot delivery, fax, and mail is available statewide for all voters

Other efforts include upgrading the voter registration and election management system to implement online voter registration and the use of electronic poll books; maintaining polling locations that were scheduled for closure; and implementing an online absentee ballot delivery and voting system, which was in place for the 2012 general election. Over 7,000 voters used the system in 2012, and the Division of Elections expects even higher numbers in 2014.

“I believe the record shows we have expanded voter access to the polls, and we will honor Judge Gleason’s ruling to the fullest measure of the law,” Treadwell said.

The court asked the state to provide a proposal by Friday, Sept. 5, 2014 that would suggest additional language assistance measures that could be implemented for the November general election. The Department of Law will work with the Division of Elections to create that proposal. With a little over 60 days left before election day, the proposal will focus on what can be done in the limited amount of time remaining.

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