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This Comment documents the limited impact of Nick v. Bethel and proposes legislative and electoral reforms to increase enfranchisement among Alaska Natives. The Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 made significant progress in protecting minority voting rights. In 2007, a federal district court interpreted the “historically unwritten” exemption in Section 203 of the VRA for the first time in Nick. While the court found Yup’ik to be historically unwritten, the court also reasoned that written translations of election materials should be prepared in order to ensure that oral translations were effective in accommodating voters. The state responded through various actions to ensure the effectiveness of the language assistance program in the Bethel Census Area. Nick set up a roadmap for future successful litigation to bring the state into compliance with the VRA. However, since the U.S. Supreme Court held parts of the VRA unconstitutional in Shelby County v. Holder , the litigation strategy outlined in Nick has dissolved. In turn, the call for new federal and state policies addressing the geographic and language obstacles for voters in Alaska has never been clearer.
Kristen M. Renberg, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road: Enfranchisement Among Native American Voters and Nick v. Bethel, 37 Alaska Law Review 285-294 (2020)
Available at: https://scholarship.law.duke.edu/alr/vol37/iss2/8