Yup’ik need translations of election ballots

by Sophie Evan on July 23, 2013

The Native American Rights Fund, or NARF, has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Yup’ik people for their right to participate in Federal and State elections.

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Elder Anna Nick of Akiachak is named as one of the plaintiff’s in the lawsuit. She does not speak any English. She’s gotten involved in the lawsuit although she doesn’t understand all of it as a Western process.
The English language explaining her voting choices and rights are just as foreign to her. Speaking in Yup’ik, she says,

“ in my observation people vote very fast, seemingly without even reading, maybe they don’t understand just like me.”

The lawsuit is seeking to challenge the State of Alaska’s voting translations for non-English speakers. The suit argues that there are indigenous people who do not speak or understand English enough to cast a ballot during Federal and State elections and that translations are not being made available at village polling places.

The NARF lawsuit says the “right to vote freely for the candidate of one’s choice is the essence of a democratic society, and any restriction on that right strike at the heart of representative government.”

The State of Alaska contends that Yup’ik is historically an oral language, and that translated ballots are not necessary. Yup’ik children have been taught Yup’ik orthography from kindergarten since the 1970’s.

The lawsuit is demanding that 8 specific actions be put in place in order to ensure that Yup’ik people are heard at the polls. They include:

To provide mandatory poll worker training, hire a language assistance coordinator fluent in Yup’ik, recruit bilingual poll workers, provide sample ballots in Yup’ik, provide pre-election publicity in Yup’ik, ensure the accuracy of the translations, provide a Yup’ik glossary of election terms, and submit pre and post election progress reports.

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