Division of Elections engages in partisan politics, distorts record
Native groups document Parnell-Treadwell Division of Elections voter suppression
ANCHORAGE: Today, Mike Wenstrup, Chair of the Alaska Democratic Party, issued the following statement on voter suppression by the Parnell-Treadwell Administration and its Division of Elections. The director of the Division of Elections criticized Senator Begich for speaking out against voter suppression.
“Senator Begich was right: This Administration is systematically suppressing the Native vote. It is highly inappropriate for the Division of Elections Director, a nonpartisan state employee, to engage in partisan politics on behalf of Sean Parnell and Mead Treadwell.
“The Alaska Federation of Natives documented extensive voter suppression by the Parnell-Treadwell Administration.
“The Division of Elections has moved or attempted to move polling places out of Native Alaska communities. It attempted to close early voting in predominantly Native communities but maintained early voting in urban communities. The Parnell-Treadwell Administration has filed a lawsuit to overturn Voting Rights Act protections for Alaska Natives, in addition to filing a separate friend-of-the-court brief supporting Shelby County, Alabama’s lawsuit against the Voting Rights Act.
“The Parnell-Treadwell administration has consistently made it more difficult for Alaska Natives and rural Alaskans to vote in our elections. The Alaska Democratic Party supports the ability of all Alaskans to participate in our democracy--our laws should ensure that everyone has the opportunity to vote."
--Mike Wenstrup, Chair, Alaska Democratic Party
Examples of voter suppression documented by the Native American Rights Fund include:
- The Division of Elections submitted to the Justice Department for preclearance a plan to eliminate polling precincts in several Native villages. The Department of Justice challenged these efforts at voter suppression under the authority of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Following the Justice Department challenge, the State withdrew its submission two weeks later (from the Alaska Federation of Natives/Native American Rights Fund’s amicus brief for Shelby vs. Holder). The state’s plan would have:[i]
- “Realigned” Tatitlek, an 85% Native Alaska community, to the predominately white community of Cordova, located over 33 miles away and not connected by road;
- DOE proposed closing Pedro Bay’s polling place, where a majority of residents are Alaska Native, and require those Native Alaskans to vote in Iliamna and Newhalen, located approximately 28 miles away. Pedro Bay and Iliamna/Newhalen are not connected by road.
- DOE proposed “consolidating” Levelock, in which about 95 percent of residents are Alaska Native, with Kokhanok, approximately 77 miles apart and not connected by road. The Division of Elections was attempting to combine precincts accessible to one another only by air or boat with high concentrations of Alaska Native voters.
- The Division of Elections did not provide adequate Yupik language sample ballots and other election materials, including oral assistance for Yupik speakers, for certain Alaska Native communities in the Bethel region, and was ordered by the United States District Court in Anchorage to correct this discrimination (Nick vs. Bethel).[ii]
- In Samuelson et. al. vs. Treadwell et. al. (2012) the Native American Rights Fund challenged the Treadwell/Division of Elections redistricting plan on the basis that it discriminated against Alaska Natives and failed to comply with the Voting Rights Act.[iii]
- The Division of Elections made absentee in-person early voting available in urban communities but not in many predominantly Alaska Native rural communities. For example, the Division of Elections attempted to shut down Klawock’s polling place.[v] The Native American Rights Fund challenged discrimination in availability of early voting in 2012.
- The Division of Elections sent letters to some Native Alaskan registrars (but not all registrars) giving only 10 days to renew their status as registrars.[vi]
- Under the Voting Rights Act, “educational discrimination” constitutes voter discrimination, and the Alaska Federation of Natives documented extensive educational discrimination in Alaska today. Educational discrimination which causes lower literacy rates and higher rates of Limited English Proficiency results in lower voter participation. Rather than attempt to redress educational discrimination, Republicans in the state legislature have proposed cutting funding for Pre-K programs which have reduced Limited English Proficiency for participating Native Alaska students. The Alaska Federation and Native American Rights Fund documented educational discrimination and associated diminished voter participation in communities across Alaska. See Appendix 1 (page 56) of the amicus brief for a complete breakdown of educational discrimination and lower voter participation across Alaska.[vii]