August 23, 2023 photo from the settlement conference, front row from left to right: Nellie Thomas, Anecia Toyukak, and Mike Toyukak. Back row from left to right: Megan Condon, James Tucker, and Erin Dougherty Lynch.

On August 31, 2023, the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska approved a settlement designed to ensure the State of Alaska provides legally required language assistance for Alaska Native voters. The settlement extends the terms of an earlier agreement to now remain in place until December 31, 2026.

Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) requires covered jurisdictions to provide language assistance, including translated registration, ballots, and election information if enough voters need it. Because Alaska still did not provide the required language assistance to Alaska Native languages speakers in 2013, Mike Toyukak and fellow Yup’ik speaker Fred Augustine filed suit along with four Tribal Nations. Represented by the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) and co-counsel, the plaintiffs received a favorable ruling.

The court held that the State of Alaska had violated Section 203 of the VRA. After trial, the parties reached a settlement agreement requiring the state to improve its language assistance program. The agreement included requirements to hire and train bilingual outreach workers and poll workers, create written and audio translations of election materials, and publicize the availability of language assistance. The agreement also required Alaska to report back on its progress for subsequent elections.

The plaintiffs’ request to extend the order noted that the state still does not provide effective language assistance. The plaintiffs worked with the state to create an action plan to make the positive changes outlined in the now extended order. The plan describes how the state will offer translation services, translated materials, and Yup’ik language assistance in the Dillingham and Kusilvak census areas.

“The Voting Rights Act protects Alaska Native language speakers. By agreeing to this plan, the state has detailed how it plans to come into compliance with the law. We will continue to monitor their progress in future elections to ensure the state is providing language assistance that enables meaningful participation in the electoral process,” said NARF Staff Attorney Megan Condon.

More about Toyukak v. Dahlstrom (formerly Toyukak v. Treadwell)

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