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Tribes, individuals ask to intervene in Alaska's challenge of Voting Rights Act

Craig MedredAlaska Dispatch

The Native American Rights Fund (NARF) announced that four individuals and four Alaska Native tribal governments asked on Tuesday to join with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in a Washington D.C. federal court to defend the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act as challenged by the state of Alaska in the case Alaska v. Holder. Both the individuals and groups will be represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACL) and NARF.

Alaska is one of only a few U.S. states that must abide by Section IV and Section V of the Voting Rights Act. Section IV requires that Alaska provide information on all stages of the voting process statewide in all Native languages. Section V asks that the state show that any changes made to the election process will not negatively effect, either unintentionally or intentionally, minority voters.

As it stands, the state argues it should not be subject to the federal provisions, and the plaintiffs and ACL, NARF, Holder and others believe that Alaska has not honored these sections of the Voting Rights Act and should still be subject to such election oversight.

NARF attorney Natalie Landreth said, "The four Alaska Natives and four tribal governments represent a cross-section of voters who continue to face barriers to voting as a result of the State's neglect, unequal treatment and violations of the law." Landreth added, "Discrimination in Alaska is not a thing of the past, and federal oversight of Alaska's election is no accident."

The four groups involved are the Emmonak Tribal Council, Bethel's Kasigulk Traditional Council, the Togiak Traditional council in the Dillingham region and Levelock Village Council in the Lake and Peninsula Borough.

The four individuals are Anna Nick, who was the lead plaintiff in Nick et al. v. Bethel et al., a case that targeted the state's violation of the language and voter assistance provisions of the Voting Rights Act; Willie Kasayulie, the lead plaintiff in Kasayulie v. State of Alaska, a case that addressed the history of unequal funding of rural school districts and resulted in a settlement with the state that will fund $146 million worth of rural school construction projects; Mike Williams, who's a member of the Akiak Tribal Council; and former redistricting board member and Native voting advocate Vicki Otte of Anchorage.

In representing Nick, Kasayulie, Williams and Otte, Landreth will be joined by attorneys Thomas Stenson of the ACLU of Alaska, Erin Dougherty of NARF, Dr. James Thomas Tucker of Lewis, Brisbois, Bisgaard and Smith LLP, and Laughlin McDonald of the national ACLU Voting Rights Project.