Tribal leaders welcome Holder’s voting access plan

  • By Rachel D'oro
  • Monday, June 9, 2014 10:04pm
  • News

ANCHORAGE — Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday his office will consult with tribes across the country to develop ways to increase voting access for American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Holder said the goal is to require state and local election officials to place at least one polling site in a location chosen by tribal governments in parts of the nation that include tribal lands. Barriers to voting, he said, include English-only ballots and inaccessible polling places.

In Alaska, for example, the village of Kasigluk is separated into two parts by a river with no bridge. On election day, people on one side have just a few hours to vote before a ballot machine is taken by boat to the other side. Several other Alaska villages have been designated as permanent absentee voting areas, which is something allowed by regulation, according to Gail Fenumia, director of the state Division of Elections.

In Montana, a voting rights lawsuit is pending from tribal members on the Crow, Northern Cheyenne and Fort Belknap reservations. They want county officials to set up satellite voting offices to make up for the long distances they must travel to reach courthouses for early voting or late registration.

“These conditions are not only unacceptable, they’re outrageous,” Holder said. “As a nation, we cannot — and we will not — simply stand by as the voices of Native Americans are shut out of the democratic process.”

After consulting with tribal leaders, his office will seek to work with Congress on a potential legislative proposal, Holder said.

Associate Attorney General Tony West discussed the announcement later Monday in Anchorage, during a speech to the National Congress of American Indians.

Despite reforms to strengthen voting rights, there also have been setbacks, West told the crowd. He cited last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of Shelby County, Alabama.

The decision effectively stripped the federal government of its most potent tool to stop voting bias — a requirement in the landmark Voting Rights Act that all or parts of 15 states with a history of discrimination in voting, mainly in the South but also Alaska, get Washington’s approval before changing the way they hold elections. Now, changes do not have to be submitted, and it is up to the U.S. Justice Department or others who sue to prove changes are discriminatory.

West also pointed to a Justice Department court filing last week that sided with plaintiffs in a voting rights lawsuit filed by several Alaska villages. The lawsuit alleges the state has failed to provide accurate, complete translations of voting materials into Alaska Native languages.

The Justice Department also intervened earlier this year in response to a plan by Cibola County, New Mexico, to eliminate voting-rights coordinators.

Remote geography and the inability to speak English do not free Americans from the obligations and responsibilities of citizenship, West said. Neither should they “impede the rights to which we are all entitled,” he said.

American Indian and Alaska Native leaders attending the conference welcomed the announcement.

“I think anything that involves tribes and tribal authority is extremely important,” said Dr. Ted Mala, director of traditional healing at the Alaska Native Medical Center and director of tribal relations for an Anchorage-based tribal health services organization.

He said tribes have had more opportunities for such consultations with the federal government under the Obama administration.

“We even meet with the president once a year, and it’s a wonderful thing,” Mala said.

Carol Schurz is a councilwoman for the Gila River Indian Community in Sacaton, Arizona. She said the community organizes its own elections and consults with state officials on state and federal elections.

Schurz encourages voter registration and said the Justice Department proposal would be well-received. She said it could empower indigenous voters “if we have the opportunity to get all our people engaged.”

Schurz added: “I’m engaged in whatever I need to do as an Indian leader, as a community leader, so yes, it is important. Everybody has a right to vote.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, also applauded the plan.

“Through better communication, obstacles to casting a ballot can be identified and addressed,” she said in a written statement. “The right to vote is fundamental, and all Americans must be able to exercise this right.”

Associated Press writers Mark Thiessen in Anchorage and Mark Sherman in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

More in News

A moose is photographed in Kalifornsky, Alaska, in July 2020. (Peninsula Clarion file)
Illegal moose harvest down from past 5 years

The large majority of moose this year were harvested from North and South Kasilof River areas.

Renee Behymer and Katelyn Behymer (right) of Anchorage win this week’s vaccine lottery college scholarship sweepstakes. (Photo provided)
Dillingham and Anchorage residents win 6th vaccine lottery

“Get it done,” one winner said. “Protect us all, protect our elders and our grandchildren.”

Kenai Vice Mayor and council member Bob Molloy (center), council member Jim Glendening (right), council member Victoria Askin (far right), and council member Henry Knackstedt (far left) participate in a work session discussing the overhaul of Kenai election codes on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska.
Kenai City Council gives sendoffs, certifies election results

Both council members-elect — Deborah Sounart and James Baisden — attended Wednesday.

This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. (CDC)
COVID is No. 3 underlying cause of death among Alaskans so far this year

The virus accounted for about 7.5% of all underlying causes of death after a review of death certificates.

Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, speaks on the floor of the Alaska House of Representatives during a floor debate on Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021, over an appropriations bill during the Legislature’s third special session of the summer. Multiple organizations reported on Wednesday that Eastman is a lifetime member of the far-right organization the Oath Keepers. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Data leak shows state rep is member of far-right organization

Wasilla area lawmaker said he joined when Oath Keepers first started.

Christine Hutchison, who lives in Kenai and also serves on the Kenai Harbor Commission, testifies in support of the use of alternative treatments for COVID-19 during a meeting of the Kenai City Council on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
‘Medical liberty’ petition brought to Kenai City Council

Some members of the public and Kenai City Council spoke against health mandates and in support of alternative treatments for COVID-19

Amber Kraxberger-Linson, a member of Trout Unlimited and streamwatch coordinator for the Chugach National Forest, works in the field in this undated photo. Kraxberger-Linson will be discussing at the Saturday, Oct. 23 International Fly Fishing Film Festival the organization’s educational programming for next summer. (Photo provided by Trout Unlimited)
Out on the water — and on the screen

Trout Unlimited to host fly fishing film festival Saturday.

This screen capture from surveillance footage released by the Anchorage Police Department shows a masked man vandalizing the Alaska Jewish Museum in Anchorage in May. (Courtesy photo / APD)
Museums statewide condemn antisemitic vandalism

Two incidents, one in May, one in September, have marred the museum this year.

Three speech language pathologists with the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District were recognized for excellence during the Alaska Speech-Language-Hearing Association last month. (Kenai Peninsula Borough School District)
Peninsula speech language therapists awarded for excellence

“I was very honored to be recognized by my peers and colleagues,” Evans said in an interview with the Clarion.

Most Read