Alaska Judge Orders Native Language Translations of Election Materials

U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason plans to conduct a 10-day trial this month, in a voting rights lawsuit to translate all election materials into Alaskan Native languages – it has been reported.

Brought to the courtroom by several Native villages and elders with limited English proficiency, the trial will address the matter of a law in which the state is obliged to provide accurate translations of all voting materials including: pamphlets, instructions,
registration materials and ballot papers.

The ruling comes just weeks after the Alaska senate passed the Alaska Native Language Bill to make its 21 native languages, official languages of the state.

The lawsuit claims that by not providing election materials in Native languages, the state of Alaska is violating language provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act.

Filed last year through the Native Americans Rights Fund, the lawsuit pinpoints the violations on four elections officials – including Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell who is currently a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate.

A debate continues surrounding the translation of written versus oral languages in official documentation. The state of Alaska has agreed to provide materials translated from English into written languages such as Spanish or French – yet argues that no such requirements have ever stood for languages that are historically oral, like Siberian Yup’ik and Gwich’in.

The state further maintains its language program as ‘robust’ and continues to defend current measures as adequate, involving bilingual poll workers, providing outreach to villages and translated ballots into selected languages.