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I've written a lot about Senator Mark Begich (D. AK) quite a bit early this month regarding his plan to strengthen Social Security known as the Protecting and Preserving Social Security Act of 2013:

Well while I was writing about that, this story fell through the cracks and resurfaced this week:

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich on Monday called on the Parnell administration and state lawmakers to make strong commitments to education, give greater support for children's health insurance and eliminate any obstacles to voting.

He said he's also worried about what he sees as trends to make voting more difficult in Alaska, particularly for Alaska Natives and other minority groups. The state last year sued over provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act, arguing, in part, that the requirement that the Justice Department approve redistricting plans or proposed election changes is unwarranted. That case is on hold pending the outcome of a U.S. Supreme Court case.

A bill also has been introduced in the House that calls for voters to present identification to cast their ballots. Begich said the measure would make it harder for many rural Alaskans to vote.

"There is not a problem here" with voter fraud, Begich said.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, called Begich misinformed and said he strongly supports a person's right to vote. Under HB3, the identification requirement could be waived if two election officials know the voter's identity and he or she is on the official registration list to vote in a given precinct.

"Instilling fear in the voting public is politics at its worst," he said in a statement. - CT Post, 3/4/13

Lynn along with Sen. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, the chairman of State Affairs and Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, are all members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).  ALEC is the large right-wing organization that has pushed for strict voter ID laws around the country.  Guess who else served on ALEC?  Governor Sean Parnell (R. AK):

Republicans have argued for years that “voter fraud” (rather than unpopular policies) costs the party election victories. A key member of the Corporate Executive Committee for ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections Task Force is Sean Parnell, president of the Center for Competitive Politics, which began highlighting voter ID efforts in 2006, shortly after Karl Rove encouraged conservatives to take up voter fraud as an issue. Kansas Republican Kris Kobach, who along with ALEC itself helped draft Arizona’s anti-immigration law, has warned of “illegally registered aliens.” ALEC’s magazine, Inside ALEC, featured a cover story titled “Preventing Election Fraud” following Obama’s election. Shortly afterward, in the summer of 2009, the Public Safety and Elections Task Force adopted voter ID model legislation. And when midterm elections put Republicans in charge of both chambers of the legislature in twenty-six states (up from fifteen), GOP legislators began moving bills resembling ALEC’s model. - The Nation, August 2011
Here's what current Alaska law states about voting rights for rural Alaskan voters:

In Alaska, where photo-bearing licenses aren't even necessary to drive in 294 villages, towns and communities off the highway system, such a requirement could affect thousands of voters.

"That's going to be depriving a lot of people from the opportunity to vote," said Myron Naneng, president of the Association of Village Council Presidents in Bethel. "For the state to say that they require an ID in order to allow people to vote, that's a bunch of BS -- strictly BS."

Current law allows voters to identify themselves with a driver license -- either with a picture or the special rural license that has no picture -- or numerous documents that don't have photographs but can tie a voter by name to an address: a birth certificate, hunting or fishing license, bank statement, utility bill, paycheck, government check "or other government document."

Rural Alaska residents have no easy access to the equipment that produces picture IDs, such as in large regional centers like Bethel and Nome and in all the larger cities. While the TSA requires a picture ID for travel from Bethel to Anchorage, that's not the case on small planes from the villages to Bethel, said Naneng, the rural official.

Tiffiny Thomas, driver license manager for the Division of Motor Vehicles, said the state has a special "valid without photo license" for rural residents who don't have easy access to an official DMV office. There's also a special off-highway license that allows rural residents to get a license without a road test. Those documents are valid in 294 villages, towns and settlements off the highway grid.

Putting photo ID machines into villages across Alaska "would be cost-prohibitive," Thomas said. The state once considered equipping a mobile DMV office, but that never went beyond the discussion stage. - The Anchorage Daily News, 12/10/12

According to the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the voter ID bill would also help suppress voting rights for Alaska's Native Americans:

The report, titled Voter IDs and the Native Vote, identifies three areas where voter ID requirements pose significant challenges for Native voters and can be characterized as having a disproportionate effect on the American Indian and Alaska Native vote: First, states with voter ID laws compromise the rights of Native voters by not accepting tribal IDs as valid forms of identification; second, such laws create barriers of cost, logistics, and distance to obtaining required IDs; and finally, these laws risk disenfranchising large numbers of Native voters through provisional ballots. - Native Vote, 10/24/12
This is not the first instance that Governor Parnell and Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell (R. AK), who has been mentioned as a potential opponent to Begich in 2014, have pushed for questionable voting changes.  Parnell & Treadwell recently pushed through a bill to change the date of Alaska’s primary elections, which are currently held every even-numbered year on the fourth Tuesday of August, up by two weeks:

Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, whose office oversees the election process in Alaska, said he asked Parnell to bring the bill forward.

“If our election’s the first week of November, 45 days really means you want to be (transmitting absentee ballots to military and overseas voters) in the third week of September,” said Treadwell Wednesday afternoon. “Sometimes Alaskans have races that are so close that … it would be hard to finish the primary and get the election certified and get the ballots printed to meet that 45-day deadline.”

The date change would also mean the primary election will be held before the start of the University of Alaska’s academic year, rather than during the week that it starts. That means students who are registered to vote at school but are spending the summer elsewhere — working a summer job or internship, going home for summer break, on vacation or otherwise — would have to change where they are registered to vote or else vote an absentee ballot in the primary.

Treadwell stressed that the change is not intended to affect student voting.

“That was not really part of our consideration," Treadwell said. "The consideration here was to get it done for the military."

Treadwell went on to say that people should "(not) read anything into this in terms of trying to suppress or disenfranchise students.” - Juneau Empire, 2/7/13

Begich also pointed out that the voter ID laws would also suppress elderly voters as well:

Begich maintained it is, citing some of his own staff members with elderly relatives lacking photo IDs who had for years voted and participated in their villages. They'd be barred from voting without the photo IDs, he said.

Gail Fenumiai, director of the state Elections Division, challenged Begich in a letter following his appearance and defended her division's efforts to assist voters with language programs that provide ballots and voter information in Alaska Native languages as well as Tagalog and Spanish.

"The state has never printed translated ballots in historically unwritten Alaska Native languages, and has never been required to do so. Therefore, your statement that the state has 'attempted to stop printing' such ballots is misinformed," Fenumiai wrote. - Alaska Dispatch, 3/8/13

Begich and his staff defended his statements calling out the Parnell administration for their challenge to the Voting Rights Act and House Bill 8's goal of suppressing rural and Native American voters in Alaska:

Senator Begich’s remarks to the state Legislature earlier this week about voting challenges faced by Alaska Natives and other minority groups were accurate and reflect the troubling experiences he’s been hearing from many rural Alaskans. Alaska Natives have relied on the Voting Rights Act for nearly 40 years to protect themselves from barriers at the ballot box.

It’s sadly ironic the Division of Elections rests its defense on that Act because this administration is in federal court seeking to gut that very law.

Senator Begich will continue to fight to uphold the ideals advanced by Elizabeth Peratrovich and other Alaska civil rights leaders that Alaska Natives and others should never be turned away at the ballot box because of the language they speak or way of life they live.

It’s sadly ironic the Division of Elections rests its defense on that Act because this administration is in federal court seeking to gut that very law. - Political News, 3/12/13

The Alaska Democratic Party also defended Begich's statement and even cited samples of how House Bill 8 suppresses the Native vote in Alaska with facts from the Native American Rights Fund:

The Division of Elections submitted to the Justice Department for preclearance a plan to eliminate polling precincts in several Native villages. The Department of Justice challenged these efforts at voter suppression under the authority of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.  Following the Justice Department challenge, the State withdrew its submission two weeks later (from the Alaska Federation of Natives/Native American Rights Fund’s amicus brief for Shelby vs. Holder).  The state’s plan would have:[i]

1. “Realigned” Tatitlek, an 85% Native Alaska community, to the predominately white community of Cordova, located over 33 miles away and not connected by road;
2. DOE proposed closing Pedro Bay’s polling place, where a majority of residents are Alaska Native, and require those Native Alaskans to vote in Iliamna and Newhalen, located approximately 28 miles away.  Pedro Bay and Iliamna/Newhalen are not connected by road.
3. DOE proposed “consolidating” Levelock, in which about 95 percent of residents are Alaska Native, with Kokhanok, approximately 77 miles apart and not connected by road.  The Division of Elections was attempting to combine precincts accessible to one another only by air or boat with high concentrations of Alaska Native voters.

The Division of Elections did not provide adequate Yupik language sample ballots and other election materials, including oral assistance for Yupik speakers, for certain Alaska Native communities in the Bethel region, and was ordered by the United States District Court in Anchorage to correct this discrimination (Nick vs. Bethel).[ii]

In Samuelson et. al. vs. Treadwell et. al. (2012) the Native American Rights Fund challenged the Treadwell/Division of Elections redistricting plan on the basis that it discriminated against Alaska Natives and failed to comply with the Voting Rights Act.[iii]

The Division of Elections made absentee in-person early voting available in urban communities but not in many predominantly Alaska Native rural communities. For example, the Division of Elections attempted to shut down Klawock’s polling place.[v] The Native American Rights Fund challenged discrimination in availability of early voting in 2012.

The Division of Elections sent letters to some Native Alaskan registrars (but not all registrars) giving only 10 days to renew their status as registrars.[vi]

Under the Voting Rights Act, “educational discrimination” constitutes voter discrimination, and the Alaska Federation of Natives documented extensive educational discrimination in Alaska today.  Educational discrimination which causes lower literacy rates and higher rates of Limited English Proficiency results in lower voter participation.  Rather than attempt to redress educational discrimination, Republicans in the state legislature have proposed cutting funding for Pre-K programs which have reduced Limited English Proficiency for participating Native Alaska students.  The Alaska Federation and Native American Rights Fund documented educational discrimination and associated diminished voter participation in communities across Alaska.  See Appendix 1 (page 56) of the amicus brief for a complete breakdown of educational discrimination and lower voter participation across Alaska.[vii] - Alaska Democratic Party, 3/7/13

The Alaska Democratic Party also took aim at Gail Fenumiai, director of the state Elections Division, for her role in the Parnell-Treadwell efforts to suppress the vote:
"It is highly inappropriate for the Division of Elections director, a nonpartisan state employee, to engage in partisan politics on behalf of Sean Parnell and Mead Treadwell," said Mike Wenstrup, chair of the Alaska Democratic Party. The state, he added, has attempted to close polling places in predominately Native villages and limited early voting as well.

"The Parnell-Treadwell administration has consistently made it more difficult for Alaska Natives and rural Alaskans to vote in our elections," Wenstrup said. - Alaska Dispatch, 3/8/13

The voter suppression efforts being pushed by Parnell, Treadwell, Lynn and the Alaska GOP are blatant efforts to steal Begich's seat and keep Democrats in the minority in the Alaskan state legislator:

The 2014 election holds big stakes in Alaska. Begich, a Democrat in a Republican-leaning state, is up for re-election, a race that could determine whether Democrats keep control of the U.S. Senate. While centrist Democrats like Begich have shown they can win a statewide election here, the contests are usually close.

Republican Gov. Parnell is also standing for re-election -- unless he chooses to run against Begich. Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, the state's top election official, has already announced that he is exploring a run against Begich.

The Alaska Redistricting Board, which remade the legislative map for the 2012 election, is under orders by the Alaska Supreme Court to redraw at least some districts by 2014. Under the 2012 map, Democrats ended up with small minorities in both houses of the Legislature, and two Native legislators and the sole African-American legislator were replaced by whites.

Most of the issues related to Native voting -- the village poll closings, voter identification, preserving legislative districts where enough voters are Native that they would have strong influence on the outcome, election material made available in indigenous languages -- are tied to protections under the Voting Rights Act. Alaska is one of nine states -- most are in the South -- that are subject to Justice Department supervision under Section 5 of the act. That means that any change to voting procedures must be cleared by the Justice Department before it can be implemented. - Anchorage Daily News, 3/10/13

Democrats are able to win in red states like Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana thanks to high Native American turnout and GOTV efforts.  Democrats from these red states like Senators Begich, Tim Johnson (D. SD), Heidi Heitkamp (D. ND) and Jon Tester (D. MT) sit on the Indian Affairs Committee in the Senate and have delivered for tribes in their states.  Begich has a great record for making Native American issues a top priority in the Senate:

Alaska's junior senator fired off a letter to President Obama this week that essentially accuses the Indian Health Service of trying to rip off Alaska Natives and American Indians.

Sen. Mark Begich asks for the president's help in "seeing to it" that the agency pays the hundreds of millions of dollars it owes tribal health organizations for unreimbursed administrative costs dating back more than a decade.

"In Alaska alone, three contractors suffered over $218 million in contract support shortfalls reaching as far back as 1997," Begich writes.

He adds that similar amounts are due tribes across the nation. "It is shocking that the agency would now delay justice, call for new audits, or seek 15 years later to renegotiate the amounts that were due at the time." - Alaska Dispatch, 11/30/12

Begich also voted for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act which now covers gay couples and Native American women from being sexually assaulted by white males on their own reservations.  He also voted for the Hurricane Sandy relief package which helps Native American tribes apply for aid directly to FEMA:
Alaska did not receive any money in the Sandy relief bill that cleared the Senate Monday night.

The bill did include a provision that will allow tribes to directly apply to the federal government for future disaster aid.

A governor needs to request a federal disaster declaration for any issues in a particular state. Senator Mark Begich says that’s changing for tribes.

“It basically gives the tribes, in this case the federal government who recognizes them as a government, a direct request,” Begich said. - Alaska Public, 1/29/13

They Alaska GOP also knows that Begich is well liked in Alaska and has proven to be an effective Senator.  Hence why PPP showed Begich with great approval ratings and beating all GOP contenders, excluding Parnell, but Parnell is running for re-election in 2014:

We've seen the majority of Republicans vote against measures like the VAWA and the Hurricane Sandy relief package that help Native Americans and they are so worried that their anti-Native American views will cost them their home turfs in rural red states like South Dakota, Montana and Alaska in 2014 that they now have to resort to suppressing the Native American vote.  If you want to fight back against the GOP's voter suppression efforts, you can find out more information from organizations like the National Congress of American Indians:

The Native American Rights Fund:

The Leadership Conference:

and the Alaska Democratic Party:

And while you're at it, how about donating to Senator Begich's re-election campaign so he can continue to fight for Native Americans in the Senate and fight back against ALEC and the GOP's voter suppression efforts:

Originally posted to pdc on Wed Mar 13, 2013 at 12:50 PM PDT.

Also republished by The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party, Invisible People, and Native American Netroots.

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