Nick v. Bethel and the State of Alaska
NARF filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that Alaska (through its agents the Lieutenant Governor and the Division of Elections, among others) has violated the Voting Rights Act by failing to provide language assistance to thousands of Yup`ik speaking voters in the Bethel Census Area. The first claim was under Section 203 of the VRA, which requires that jurisdictions covered by the Act provide oral and written assistance sufficient to enable the voter to cast a meaningful ballot.
While the languages covered (meaning those for which the State has to provide assistance) varies statewide to correspond to the number of people who speak that language, in the Bethel Census Area, the covered language is Yup`ik. However, there was in fact little to no oral language assistance provided and absolutely no written assistance provided to the Yup`ik voters. The second claim was under Section 208 of the VRA which provides that a voter who needs help reading and writing may bring anyone they like into the voting booth to help them cast a ballot.
The case was filed in June, 2007 and on July 31, 2008 the District Court issued a Preliminary Injunction ordering the State to provide comprehensive language assistance in time for the 2008 August primary and November general elections. This relief included providing written ballots in the Yup'ik language, publicizing all election notices and information in Yup'ik, and creation of a new statewide position to oversee Native language assistance. Additionally, the State was to report to the Court before and after each election that they had taken these steps.
Plaintiffs settled with the City of Bethel in 2009 and with the State in January 2010. The comprehensive settlement agreement includes translation and interpretation assistance for all Yup'ik speaking voters throughout the registration and voting process. The court has retained jurisdiction to oversee the State's compliance with the settlement agreement. It is worth noting that this is the first case that NARF's Alaska office has ever settled with the State in its more than 25-year history. NARF is currently monitoring the State's compliance with the settlement agreement and will continue to do so through the 2012 election cycle.
Preliminary Injunction, July 30, 2008