Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The State of Alaska, NARF, Northern Justice Project and ACLU Reach Settlement In Yup'ik Language and Voter Assistance Case

CONTACT: Natalie Landreth (907) 276-0680 or (907) 360-3423

Anchorage, Alaska – Alaska state officials along with Native American Rights Fund (NARF), the American Civil Liberties Union, the Northern Justice Project, four Alaska Native elders and four tribal governments today jointly announced a settlement of Nick, et al. v. Bethel, et al. According to the settlement, the state of Alaska will make enhancements to language assistance for Yup’ik-speaking voters available at elections in the Bethel area.

The resolution of the case, originally filed in June 2007 on behalf of Alaska Native elders Anna Nick, Billy McCann, Arthur Nelson and David O. David and the tribal governments of Kasigluk, Kwigillingok, Tuluksak and Tuntutuliak was hailed by all parties involved.

"This settlement recognizes improvements to language-assistance protocols implemented by the state during the 2008 and 2009 elections, while providing for enhancements to ensure that limited-English-proficient voters receive effective assistance," said Alaska Attorney General Dan Sullivan. "We support fair voting practices and effective access to the voting booth for all Alaskans, and we will vigorously implement the terms of this settlement."

“We are extremely pleased the state of Alaska will provide Yup'ik-speaking voters in the Bethel area with the tools they need to fully participate in the political process," said Natalie Landreth of Native American Rights Fund (NARF). “That is what this case was all about – equal access to the polls.”

"Our right to vote is one of the most important that we as Americans possess," said Alaska Lieutenant Governor Craig Campbell, who oversees the Division of Elections. "Here in Alaska, we want all our citizens to exercise that right, regardless of where they live or the language they speak. We are pleased to have come together to ensure that this case is a win-win for Yup'ik-speaking voters and the State of Alaska."

“Every American deserves an equal voice in the political process,” said Laughlin McDonald, Director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project. "The Constitution protects all Alaskans' right to vote regardless of what language they speak."

Key protocols for the Division of Election include:

-Training bilingual poll workers to provide language and voter assistance to voters;

-Coordinating language assistance through a bilingual staff person with a toll-free number;

-Relying on Yup'ik language experts to translate election materials, including information on ballot measures, candidates, absentee and special-needs voting and voter registration,

-Preparation of a Yup'ik-English glossary of election terms and phrases to guide bilingual poll workers providing language assistance;

-Providing sample ballots in Yup'ik;

-Pre-election publicity in Yup’ik through radio ads, television programs, public service announcements and announcements over VHF radios in villages that do not receive local radio stations;

-Undertaking outreach to the villages in the census area.

“I have said all along that all we wanted was to be able to understand what we are voting for. Now that will happen, and I am very, very happy,” said Billy McCann, a plaintiff in the case. Being a Plaintiff is not easy but when you come together to fix a problem like this, it is worth it.”

Attorneys for the state of Alaska are Assistant Attorneys General Gilman Dana S. Burke, Sarah J. Felix, Margaret A. Paton-Walsh and Michael Barnhill.

Attorneys for the Plaintiffs are Natalie Landreth of NARF; Dr. James T. Tucker; ACLU of Alaska; Laughlin McDonald of the ACLU Voting Rights Project; and James J. Davis, Jr.

back row: Joe Alexie (Tuluksak Tribal Council), Jason Brandeis (Alaska ACLU), Peter Andrew (Tuluksak Tribal Council), Michael Martin (Kasigluk Traditional Council), Jim Tucker (attorney), Nick David (Tuntutuliak Tribal Council)

front row: Jim Davis (attorney), Leo Beaver (Kasigluk Traditional Council), Robert Enoch (Tuntutuliak Tribal Council), Natalie Landreth (NARF Attorney) and Elsie Nichols (Kasigluk Traditional Council)

To view the Settlement Agreement click here.