Justice Department To Work With Tribes To Enhance Voting Access

The National Congress of American Indians is holding their mid-year conference in Anchorage this week. Titled-Claiming our Rights and Strengthening our Governance, the conference started yesterday and runs through Wednesday.

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(Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN - Anchorage)
(Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage)
U.S Department of Justice Assistant Attorney General Tony West adhered to the theme as he said DOJ would work with tribes to enhance access to voting.

“And so the Attorney General announced today that we would engage in consultation with tribal leaders to come up with legislative proposals that would hopefully at the end of the day would result in polling places in local Native communities, on reservations, in Native villages as well as ensuring that election materials, ballot materials are being presented and offered in those Native languages,” West said.

State Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai says remote precincts have a polling place in the most populated part of the precinct and other areas are designated ‘permanent absentee voting areas’. Voters in these areas can apply to have an absentee ballot mailed to them.

West said there are no legislative efforts being crafted yet, because tribal governments need to weigh in on what an equitable plan would look like.

West made it clear that Justice Department officials strongly support tribal government sovereignty and will work to help clarify jurisdiction issues in Alaska, particularly as it relates to domestic violence and sexual assault.

“In US Attorneys’ office, we’re making sure there are funds and resources available to try to deal with sex trafficking, to try to deal with violence against women,” West said. “We strongly support the repeal of section 910 of Violence Against Women Act which took Alaska Native villages outside of this ability of tribes to exercise special criminal jurisdiction and pursue, in certain instances, domestic violence perpetrators.”

Speaking earlier to a large group at the Dena’ina Convention center, West said DOJ filed a “statement of interest” last week in case called Toyukuk vs. Treadwell. Plaintiff Mike Toyukuk of the village of Manokotak, is suing the state over a failure to provide oral language assistance for citizens who speak Yu’pik as their first language.

“Because, if remote geography, or the inability to speak English, do not free any of us from the obligations and responsibilities of citizenship, then they should not impede the exercise of rights to which we are all entitled,” West said.

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Lori Townsend is the News Director for the Alaska Public Radio Network. She got her start in broadcasting at the age of 11 as the park announcer of the fast pitch baseball games in Deer Park, Wisconsin. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for more than 24 years. She was the co-founder and former Editor of Northern Aspects, a magazine featuring northern Wisconsin writers and artists. She worked for 7 years at tribal station WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibway Reservation in Wisconsin, first as an on-air programmer and special projects producer and eventually News Director. In 1997 she co-hosted a continuing Saturday afternoon public affairs talk program on station KSTP in St. Paul, Minnesota. Radio brought her to Alaska where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting. Following her work there, she helped co-found the non-profit broadcast company Native Voice Communications. NVC created the award-winning Independent Native News as well as producing many other documentaries and productions. Townsend was NVC’s technical trainer and assistant producer of INN. Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Her print work and interviews have been published in News from Indian Country, Yakama Nation Review and other publications. Ms. Townsend has also worked as a broadcast trainer for the Native American Journalist’s Association and with NPR’s Doug Mitchell and as a freelance editor. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Townsend was the recipient of a Fellowship at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting in Rhode Island as well as a fellowship at the Knight Digital Media Center in Berkeley. She is an avid reader, a rabid gardener and counts water skiing, training horses, diving and a welding certification among her past and current interests. ltownsend (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8452 | About Lori