WASHINGTON — Federal observers documented repeated problems with support for Alaska’s native language during the November 8 general election. This comes months after concerns about election protocols were voiced in August.
During the August Special House and primary elections, the Justice Department sent federal observers to several Alaska Native-majority polling places to assess the language performance of Yup’ik speakers. Reports have identified what appear to be legal violations at several polling stations that are required to provide language assistance.
The Justice Department has re-deployed federal observers to the six jurisdictions where accommodation for Yup’ik speakers is required during the Nov. 8 general election. Reports indicated lingering problems, including lack of required language assistance training for polling staff and lack of translated election materials.
For example, at Togiak City Hall, all but one poll worker who was present during the November general election spoke English and Yupik. However, federal observers report that none of the poll workers received mandatory language assistance training on how to translate ballot content and explain procedures.
According to the report, one poll worker said, “National staff were not Yup’ik speakers and were not trained to support minority languages because poll staff were to teach Yup’ik to their staff.” ‘ explained.
The court order details specific instructions for Alaska precincts, including providing a “Can I help you?” polling place button. Posters written in Yup’ik or Gwich’in and translated posters identifying bilingual poll workers and notifying them of the availability of language assistance at their polling place.
Federal observers documented that no one wore buttons in Togiak and there were no compulsory translated signs at city hall during the November elections.
According to the report, only two of the six polling stations observed in Yupik installed signs during the November elections.
In many of the polling stations observed, voters did not need assistance with Yupik. Observed on Nov. 8, a report showed that voters in only two of the six voting jurisdictions needed minority language assistance.
However, states must provide language accommodation in jurisdictions with lower English proficiency percentages than the national average in order to comply with the Voting Rights Act. The Alaska State Elections Office provides ballot materials in six her dialects of Spanish, Tagalog, Yupik, Gwich’in, Northern Inupiak, Nunibak He Chupig, and Aleut.
In 2013, four Alaska Native tribal governments and two Alaska Native voters filed lawsuits alleging that Alaska election officials violated the Voting Rights Act by failing to provide language facilities to Native voters. woke up
The Toyukaku v. Marot case resulted in a 2015 settlement agreement that required the elections office to produce election materials in Yupik and Gwichchin, where Dillingham, Ksilbak, and Yukon Koyukuk had a high percentage of voters. Census area. The elections department must also provide bilingual elections officials trained in the target jurisdiction, among other detailed requirements.
Since the 2015 court order, the DOJ has regularly sent federal observers to submit reports on voter language practices in covered jurisdictions.
Department spokeswoman Tiffany Montemayor said the department was reviewing the federal observer’s report and was “making every effort to comply” with the Voting Rights Act and Toyukak’s order, but the agency said He said he faced the challenge of recruiting bilingual polling workers.
“Recruiting bilingual workers is often difficult, especially where residents have notified the department that they do not need language assistance. We have complied with the order and expect to continue to comply with the Voting Rights Act,” Montemayor said in a statement.
Montemayor added that the department has expanded language assistance by providing translated materials such as mail, advertisements and election brochures. She said the department plans to release a report on language assistance in January.
Mara Kimmel, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Alaska, said the ACLU closely tracks language accessibility on ballots. She acknowledged that the Elections Authority faces challenges in complying with the Toyukak order, but Alaska election officials said in a 2019 report from the Alaska Advisory Board to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission that I believe we should look to the recommendations outlined.
“Because of geography, it’s very difficult to fully solve,” says Kimmel. “Alaska is a tough place to do anything, but we’ve had very smart people thinking about this for a very long time. It’s a matter of following that roadmap.”
Election officials have long struggled to comply with Toyukak’s orders, according to federal observer reports dating back to 2016.
The Alaska Advisory Committee report calls for the Department of Justice to “vigorously enforce” voting rights laws in the state and for the Alaska legislative delegation and state legislature to seek funding to support the state’s language assistance efforts. recommended.
In some jurisdictions, federal observers have found that steps were taken to improve compliance during the August and November elections. In August, Dillingham City Hall’s only translated election material was a ‘I voted’ sticker. During the November election, poll workers hung Yupik sample ballots and bilingual poll workers wore translations of “Can I help?” button.
However, federal observers said Dillingham City Hall’s sole bilingual elections officer had not been trained on how to translate ballots or provide procedural instructions ahead of the August or November elections. I discovered that again.
“According to a bilingual pollster, the only translation training she received was the Yup’ik translation ballot she received in the mail.”
ACLU’s Kimmel said she hopes they will work on improving language support as the elections office transitions to a new director and new lieutenant governor, Nancy Dahlstrom.
“My hope is that the Office of Elections will double down on efforts to build capacity within its organization, staff capacity, and make sure language access is a priority,” Kimmel said. rice field. “I am always hopeful.”
©2022 the Alaska Dispatch News, Anchorage, Alaska
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