Navigating the Ballots Language barriers by leah moss
If you live in Anchorage, you might have noticed that the ballots you get are only available in English.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was put in place to remove many barriers to voting, and the Act requires the Division of Elections to provide language assistance to groups whose language is Spanish, Native American, Alaska Native, or one of the Asian languages if more than five percent of the voting age population speaks limited English. Unfortunately, those percentages don’t work out for voters who need language assistance in our major cities. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still find language assistance to help you get your voice heard.
The Division of Elections has worked diligently to provide materials to prep everyone for the upcoming election in many languages, including election pamphlets and even sample ballots you can request ahead of time. You can go to the Division of Elections website and get sample ballots in Spanish and Tagalog. The language assistance plan currently provides translated election materials for written language and oral language assistance for languages, such as Alaska Native languages. Unfortunately, not all of these are fully complete. You can check out what resources are available to you are your family by visiting their website. https://www.elections.alaska.gov/Core/languageassistance.php
Sample ballots will be available online on each language’s respective webpage as soon as they have been reviewed by translators, and voters are very welcome to bring those into the polling place. You can mark the sample ballot up ahead of time and bring it with you to help! By reading through those ballots in your native language, you can better prepare yourself for election day.
You also have the option to have language assistance when you go to vote. The Division of Elections has bilingual workers each election cycle to provide language assistance to voters. You can take a family member or friend with you to vote to help you navigate the ballots. It’s important to note that whoever is assisting you can not be a coworker or union representative, and they can not influence your vote. This is your voice, and your vote is a personal and private choice.
The Division of Elections is working to make non-English ballots available, but it is taking time. All of the language is written and ready to go, but getting them to the official ballots for every Alaskan has been challenging. Currently, in rural Alaska, there are electronic tablets that provide accessibility to non-English speakers and the visually impaired; this is an amazing step towards the progress we need for all Alaskan voters. There is hope that by 2024 official ballots will be available in many languages, even in our bigger cities.
If you would like to help and are fluent in English and one of the Alaska Native languages, Tagalog, or Spanish, you can serve as a bilingual voter registrar, outreach worker, or poll worker. Just visit the Division of Elections website to find out more.
Your voice matters in this and every election. While we may not have official ballots in every language yet, the Division of Elections is working to make that happen. And while this may be an added obstacle to casting your vote, remember we are all here to help each other. So we must ensure our family and friends have all the tools and assistance they need to understand the ballots and cast their vote.
- If you experience a problem, have questions, or need more information about voting, call: Spanish/English: 888-VE-Y-VOTA – NALEO Educational Fund
- Need language assistance with any part of the voting process either on Election Day or before? Language Assistance 1-866-954-8683
- If a translator is available to assist by phone, the Division of Elections can connect them directly. If a translator is not immediately available, the Division of Elections will still do its best to link voters with an organization that can provide the assistance needed.
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