Feds expand areas where ballots will be in Native languages

  • Saturday, December 10, 2016 9:48pm
  • News

JUNEAU, Alaska — More people who speak Alaska Native languages will be able to receive translated election material thanks to changes made by the U.S. Census Bureau.

KTOO-FM reports that the Census Bureau announced on Monday that it has expanded the number of areas and languages eligible for election material translation.

The Census Bureau designates languages for translation based on its estimates for speakers who have limited English proficiency.

Indra Arriaga, who manages language assistance compliance for the state Division of Elections, said it’s important to get more people involved in elections in their native languages.

“Anytime you have an increased number of people at the polls deciding things for themselves, it’s a benefit,” Arriaga said. “And that is the mandate of the division: to make sure that any Alaskan who is eligible to vote can vote.”

In Alaska, the bureau expanded the areas where Yupik translations will be available to include Aleutians East, Bristol Bay, Kenai, Kodiak Island, and Lake and Peninsula boroughs. Aleutians West census area must also receive Unungam Tunuu language assistance. Southeast Fairbanks and Valdez-Cordova census areas must receive services in Athabascan languages. And Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area must have Inupiaq language translation available.

The Division of Elections will work to ensure that translations will be available in the new areas. First, the agency will contact local governments and tribes to determine while languages are used in the areas. For example, the Census Bureau has ruled that Athabascan translations are needed in the Fairbanks area, but it doesn’t say which Athabascan language.

Many areas of Alaska where there are a large number of Alaska Native language speakers were already covered. The federal government requires that the state provide translations of written materials. The state also provides bilingual election workers at some precincts.

John Active, who has translated for Yupik voters in Bethel, said some voters need the help.

“Most of them are elders, and they’re only Yupik speakers,” Active said. “They don’t speak English. They don’t understand English.”

Fairbanks’ Doyon Foundation Language Revitalization Program Director Allan Hayton said it is good to see the federal government expanding the areas where Native Alaskan speakers are served.

“All of our languages currently are endangered,” Hayton said. “For those that are voting, to be informed of what they’re voting on, who they’re voting for, this type of language assistance is invaluable.”

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