Activists express concerns over changes still needed for Alaska Native voting rights

Published: Aug. 24, 2017 at 3:51 PM AKDT
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Facing a civil rights advisory committee, multiple Alaskans expressed concerns over Alaska Native voting rights Thursday.

From challenges with location to overcoming language barriers, a group of activists discussed some of the changes they say are still needed to improve Alaska Native voting rights, particularly for those in rural areas.

In 2014, a ruling in a historic lawsuit shifted the way 29 communities of voters understand election information.

As part of the settlement for the Toyukak v. Treadwell lawsuit voting materials were translated into Yup'ik and Gwich'in languages.

Changes, Indra Arriaga, the elections language assistance compliance manager for the state of Alaska division of elections said could be seen in the 2016 Presidential Election.

"We expanded the glossary from 74 terms to 179 terms, we are doing audio glossaries. It was the first year we did the election pamphlet in Alaska Native languages so that was huge," Arriaga said.

Some panelists say there's still more work to do to allow the voices of voters in remote areas to be heard.

"Not having early voting in rural Alaska in the same extent as urban Alaska is one of the biggest challenges. Not having those poll workers in rural Alaska paid the same as those poll workers in urban Alaska is another challenge," Nicole Borromeo, Executive Vice-President and General Counsel, Alaska Federation of Natives.

As the state's largest city prepares to operate the 2018 elections with a vote-by-mail system, Borromeo told the Alaska Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, that may not be the best move for rural voters.

Since weather and other factors could affect mail delivery.

"Implementing indirective new policies such as mail-in voting needs to be thought out. Different systems need to be examined. Probably end up being most successful with a hybrid approach where you have a mail option and an in-person option and maybe even an online option," Borromeo said.

Representatives from the Division of Elections say it's unclear if rural communities will also make the switch.

For now, workers are focused on streamlining internal infrastructure.

"We're developing databases, revising websites, looking at translation software for management of the glossaries," Arriaga said.

Alaskans are still able to submit testimony to the Advisory Committee between now and September 22nd.

Submissions should be sent to