Election prep underway with a focus on Native languages
As Alaskans prepare to vote this month, several provisions are being enacted as a result of a lawsuit brought by a Manokotak voter.
Mike Toyukak sued the state over the translation of voting materials for voters who have limited English proficiency several years ago. Under the terms of the settlement filed in 2015, which took about nine months to develop, the state Division of Elections has implemented several measures this year meant to help make voting more accessible to those Alaskans.
Voters going to the polls August 16, or voting by absentee ahead of time, can vote for democratic or republican contenders in several races. That's similar to usual.
Among the changes are more of a focus on Yup'ik translations and materials - as well as other languages.
Before the settlement, the Division of Elections had sample ballots, radio announcements, election pamphlet information and an audio translation of the ballot on touch-screen voting machines in general central Yup'ik. Now, Division of Elections Director Josie Bahnke said the division is expanding to several Yup'ik dialects, including Bristol bay, Yukon, Hooper Bay/Chevak, and Norton Sound.
The division put together a translation panel this year to have expert speakers help work on the translations, and now the results of that work is playing out.
Other Alaska Native languages are also being added, aside from the Yup'ik dialect expansions.
The state is also working on expanding the languages it translates election information to, hiring bilingual workers for more hours, and providing mandatory training for bilingual elections workers. "At the polls, voters can expect to have access to bilingual poll workers to answer questions and provide them with support," Bahnke wrote in response to questions. "Voters can also expect to find sample ballots in their language that they can use when casting their vote, as well as translated materials to provide them with the same information available to English speakers so that they can make the best, informed, decisions at the poll possible."
Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on August 16, absentee and early voting is underway now.
To determine whether the new practices meet the terms of the settlement, the state Department of Justice will observe at polling sites during both the primary and general election.