For Immediate Release
Yup'ik-Speaking Voters to Receive Additional Language Assistance in the City of Bethel, Alaska
City, NARF and ACLU Agree on Voting Rights Act Measures
ANCHORAGE - Measures
providing additional language assistance for Yup'ik speakers at
municipal elections in Bethel, Alaska were agreed upon as part of a
settlement among the city of Bethel, Native American Rights Fund
(NARF), the American Civil Liberties Union and two local Alaska
Natives. Yup'ik is the primary language of a majority of citizens in
the Bethel region. The settlement agreement follows a lawsuit filed
against the city by NARF and the ACLU on behalf of the two local Alaska
Natives. The parties look forward to working together to provide
Yup'ik-speaking voters with more effective voting assistance.
The lawsuit Nick, et al. v. Bethel, et al.,
remains pending in the federal district court for the District of
Alaska against the State of Alaska. The lawsuit was brought on behalf
of the same Alaska Natives who agreed to the current settlement as well
as two other Alaska Natives and four tribal governments.
"We are extremely pleased that the
city of Bethel has agreed to provide enhanced language assistance to
Yup'ik-speaking voters so that they can fully participate in city
elections," said NARF attorney Natalie Landreth. "We are confident that
the Yup'ik people and other Alaskan Natives will have all the tools
they need to exercise the most fundamental act of citizenship, the
right to vote."
Under the settlement agreement, the
city of Bethel will provide enhanced language assistance to Yup'ik
voters, including trained poll workers who are bilingual in English and
Yup'ik; sample ballots for election measures in written Yup'ik; a
written Yup'ik glossary of election terms; advance notice of translator
services; election announcements on the radio; and pre- and
post-election reports to the Federal District Court for Alaska tracking
the city's efforts.
"The city of Bethel has taken pride
in its previous efforts to assist Yup'ik speakers in the election
process," said Lori Strickler, the City Clerk for Bethel. "Our primary
concern has always been to provide for the needs of our constituents.
We are delighted to take further measures that will help ensure that
every voter in the city of Bethel can take an equal part in the
decisions made in our community."
Jason Brandeis, staff attorney at
the ACLU of Alaska, said, "All voters have a constitutional right to be
included in the political process, whether their primary language is
English or Yup'ik. We are very happy that all parties could agree on
the scope of necessary adequate voting assistance, including qualified
translators, sample ballots and meaningful outreach to inform Yup'ik
voters of their rights."
The ACLU and NARF continue to
litigate against the State of Alaska so that all Yup'ik speaking voters
in the state can be fully included in the political process.
Alaska is one of just five states
covered in its entirety by the language assistance provisions of the
Voting Rights Act. Those provisions, sections 4(f)(4) and 203, apply to
areas that meet certain threshold requirements for numbers of citizens
with limited English proficiency. Section 208 has nationwide
applicability and gives "any voter who requires assistance to vote by
reason of blindness, disability, or inability to read or write" a right
to receive "assistance by a person of the voter's choice." The
temporary provisions of the Voting Rights Act, including sections
4(f)(4) and 203, were reauthorized by Congress in 2006 for an
additional 25 years.
Attorneys for the Alaska Natives are
Landreth and Dr. James T. Tucker of NARF, Brandeis of the ACLU of
Alaska and Laughlin McDonald and Brian Sutherland of the ACLU Voting
Rights Project. The attorneys for the city of Bethel are Stephen Smith
and Marla Goodman Zink of K&L Gates, LLP.
The settlement agreement is online at: www.aclu.org/votingrights/
More information about the ACLU's work on voting rights is available at: www.votingrights.org
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.