State Challenges Federal Voting Rights Requirement

The   Department of Law has weighed in on a suit in federal court aimed at stopping the Division of Elections from preparing for future elections until all challenges to the new Redistricting Plan are settled.  The Division is currently waiting to take the final steps on this year’s  elections until the U-S Justice Department approves  the state plan under the federal Voting Rights Act.

In a statement released late yesterday,  Attorney General Michael Geraghty  said there is no Constitutional reason for the delay because the federal government should not be involved in the issue.

Assistant Attorney General Margaret Paton-Walsh says the 1965 voting rights act places the “pre-clearance” requirement only on a few states.  Among them is Alaska,  which at the time had an English language requirement.

It’s essentially based on the theory that the jurisdiction can’t be trusted.  And we don’t think that’s appropriate applied to Alaska.  In fact, when the voting rights Act was reauthorized in 2006, we don’t believe the evidence  justified the distinction between the states that are covered and the states that aren’t covered.  Because not everybody has to do this.

The language exclusions were removed, but a later ballot initiative in 1998 required all communications with the state government be in English.  That held until 2010 when the state settled a lawsuit in Bethel  that claimed its refusal to provide Yupik elections material was a violation of the federal law.  Paton-Walsh says the state is committed to providing language assistance for voters and is not trying to undermine the protections of the voting rights act.

We’re not saying we don’t think those are important issues or that we don’t think that Alaska should not be required to not to discriminate or not to provide assistance.   That’s not what this is about.  This is a much narrower issue that has to do only with this requirement that every time we want to make any kind of a change we have to go to Washington D-C.

She says the lawsuit does not consider the time necessary to prepare for an election.  And the only obstacle to completion of that work is the absence of federal pre-clearance.

Attorneys who are working the case for the Native American Rights Fund declined to comment on the record on the state’s argument until filing a response to the Federal  Court  on Monday.

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