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State leaders prefer cooked map to protecting Native voters

Shannyn Moore

The federal Voting Rights Act goes on trial this week.

It was enacted in 1965, because some people were working really hard so some other people couldn't vote (that's a nice way to say they were "racists").

The federal government finally agreed to make sure that everyone with a constitutional right to vote would be allowed to vote, despite the bigots running state and local governments.

In 1975, Alaska's congressional delegation ensured that we were added to the list of states protected -- because Alaska Native voters who didn't speak or read English were being disenfranchised. Again, in 2006 under Republican rule, the Voting Rights Act was re-authorized by Congress to cover Alaska. Twenty languages spoken by First Alaskans were excluded from the ballot or voting information.

Now Shelby County, Ala., is suing to get out from under federal oversight of voting rights. It beat Alaska to the punch. There's also an Alaska vs. Holder suit pending, filed in August.

Our state's case, which has been stayed, will rise or fall with the decision of the Supreme Court in Shelby vs. Holder.

In a "friend of the court" brief filed by the state of Alaska, our department of law bitched and moaned, "Alaska has repeatedly suffered "extraordinary federalism costs. These provisions nearly derailed Alaska's 2012 elections, when the State was sued to stop election preparations under an interim redistricting plan ordered by the Alaska Supreme Court and submitted to the DOJ for preclearance. Although DOJ's eventual preclearance mooted the lawsuit, the damage to the state's sovereignty was done."

See, the Republicans who filed this brief are angry because their gerrymandered redistricting map was challenged in court. The map used in the 2012 election has been thrown out as unconstitutional under STATE law, but the Parnell administration doesn't want the Department of Justice to be able to ensure Native Alaskans are represented.

The state says there are no problems with Alaska Natives being allowed to vote, then they go one to say the standards are "hopelessly difficult for states to meet."

Which is it? That you've met them or they're impossible to meet? Pick one.

Was the burden financial? We have lawyers on salary. We have $15 billion in savings and $45 billion in the permanent fund. Do you really think we can't afford to protect VOTING RIGHTS?

Another amicus brief has been filed with the high court. This one from the Alaska Federation of Natives. The AFN represents 178 villages, 13 Native corporations, and 12 non-profit regional consortia. They say they "represent registered voters in Alaska who are impacted by the State's failure to comply with the VRA (Voting Rights Act)."

The AFN lays out, in its 101-page brief, the many years of difficulties Native Alaskans have faced to have their voices heard.

Well, I'm not sure how the court will read it, but their brief screamed "SMACKDOWN" to me.

Why did the AFN file its brief? "To respond to Alaska's amicus brief that falsely claims it has no history of voting discrimination ..."

In correcting the record presented by the state -- trying to save their Republican gerrymandered voting map -- the AFN states, "The unvarnished truth is that Alaska is a textbook case for why the coverage formula remains valid and section 5 remains a necessary response to widespread educational and voting discrimination against Alaska Native citizens."

Gov. Sarah Palin was ordered by a panel of three federal judges to provide trained workers at the polls who could assist voters in English and Yup'ik. That was in 2008, and the judges cited "years of State neglect." The state was ordered to consult "with local Tribes to ensure the accuracy of Yup'ik translations; a Yup'ik language coordinator; and pre-election and post-election reports to the court to track the State's efforts."

So now Gov. Sean Parnell, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and our state attorney general, Michael Geraghty, have thrown the voting rights of First Alaskans under the bus to protect their precious redistricting map.

I asked Sen. Mark Begich about the Shelby vs. Holder case. "I'm watching this very closely, and am hopeful the courts will see reason to continue to protect the voting rights of First Alaskans."

Where is Sen. Lisa Murkowski? Mute. Her election was hugely helped by Native corporations. She was the only candidate to speak at the AFN conference in 2010. Is she more loyal to the state party's map than to the First Alaskans whose help was key to her re-election?

As AFN pleads to the high court, "Alaska's rhetoric to the contrary is refuted by the reality of its sad legacy of excluding Native voters."

Meanwhile, Republican Reps. Wes Keller and Bob Lynn have introduced cookie-cutter Voter ID legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council. Eleven percent of Americans don't have photo ID. The percentage is far higher among Alaska Natives. There have been exactly zero people prosecuted for "voter fraud" in Alaska. More people have the wrong limb amputated in the hospital than have tried to use someone else's identification to vote. Why don't they make it a felony to run out of ballots during an election? That's actually a problem.

News flash to the clowns running this state: Alaska Natives are Americans -- their vote should be protected. You're supposed to represent all Alaskans. Stop lying to the Supreme Court.

 

 



By SHANNYN MOORE