Opinion

Julie Kitka: Alaska must protect voting rights of Native people





Julie Kitka, the president of the Alaska Federation of Natives, says Alaska Natives deserve the right to vote in their own languages:
We can see the state’s dismissive attitude toward some Alaska voters in the language state lawyers used in arguing for an order barring Alaska’s top election official, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, as a witness. According to Richard Mauer’s May 30 Anchorage Daily News story, the state’s lawyers argued that his testimony would be a “waste of time.” “He knows very little about the day-to-day details of the language-assistance program,” the state wrote, adding that "high officials" like Treadwell should generally not be required to testify because they "have greater duties and time constraints than other witnesses."

This is outrageous. The number-one duty of the lieutenant governor is control and supervision of the Division of Elections. AFN is very concerned that the state’s top election official has “limited knowledge of the department’s Native language program,” according to the state’s lawyers. It is the duty of the Division of Elections from top down to work toward fair elections for every Alaska voter in our wonderfully diverse state.

When Congress enacted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), it intended for all Americans to participate in elections. It is clear from the history of legal complaints and election statistics that state officials -- under both Republican and Democrat administrations -- have generally ignored their responsibilities. Let’s remember that Alaska Natives who vote here are U.S. citizens, Alaska citizens, serving our country with military service in higher numbers per capita than any other minority group. Native American Rights Fund (NARF), which represents the plaintiffs in the case, said the state’s “indifference has contributed to depressed voter participation in the neglected Native communities, including some with turnout 20 to 30 percent lower than turnout in non-Native communities. It is unfortunate that Native voters have had to turn to the federal court to secure their fundamental right to vote.”

Get the Story:
Julie Kitka: Protecting Alaska Natives' right to vote -- no matter what language they speak -- is critical (The Anchorage Daily News 6/12)

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