Voter suppression, Kansas style: Dodge City

UPDATE: 1 November

Voters who have already received absentee ballots have until November 5 to return to the county office in Dodge City or be certain to have them postmarked no later than November 6th.

There is in-office voting on Saturday and Monday

  • Saturday, November 3, from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm
  • Monday, November 5, 9:00 am until noon

* Original story below *

Attention Dodge City, Kansas, voters: you have until Tuesday October 30 to apply for a no-excuse absentee ballot.

Voting by mail is not only easier, it circumvents voter suppression efforts like those demonstrated by Ford County election officials; Dodge City is the county seat of Ford County.

Limited access to polling location

Dodge City has one polling place for its 27,000 residents. In other Kansas locales, there would be at least 10 polling locations for this many voters, based on state averages.

That single polling site services more than 13,000 voters in the Dodge City area, compared to an average of 1,200 voters per polling site at other locations, said Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU in Kansas.

Moreover, there are three polling places for 1,300 people in the rest of Ford County.

Although Hispanic-Americans comprise 60% of the city’s population, until this year the polling center was located “in the wealthy, white part of town.” This could contribute to lower-than-average voting rates for Hispanic-Americans who live in Dodge City.

Single poll moved outside city limits

The situation for the November 6 election is worse. County officials moved the one polling center “outside the city limits to a facility more than a mile from the nearest bus stop, citing road construction that blocked the previous site.”

On Friday, the ACLU filed a lawsuit which would require the county to open a second voting location in Dodge City.

In reporting on the lawsuit, WMBF news noted:

The Wichita Eagle reported that after the ACLU initially objected to the Dodge City’s single, out-of-town location. [Ford County Clerk Debbie] Cox forwarded to the state an ACLU letter asking her to publicize a voter help. “LOL,” she wrote in an email to Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office.

The ACLU rationale for the lawsuit: limited access to polling locations violates the Voting Rights Act because Hispanic voters “are less likely than their white counterparts to have access to a vehicle, have lower incomes and work in industries with less flexible schedules.”

County officials sent voters the wrong address

Ford County Clerk Debbie Cox is the local elections official; she is a Republican. Her office “sent newly registered voters an official certificate of registration that listed the wrong place to cast a ballot.” It listed the old site, not the new one.

Confusing information about absentee voting

Ford County does not clearly explain election deadlines for voters, even though Cox suggests that voters who have shift work “get their ballot by mail.”

On its website, this is what Cox says for the October 30 deadline to apply for an absentee ballot:

Deadline for advance ballots to be mail.

Setting aside the grammatical issue, this statement implies that voters must return their absentee ballots by October 30. That is false.

The Kansas SOS website makes Tuesday’s deadline clear:

Deadline for voters to apply for advance voting ballots to be mailed for general election.

See the key missing verb? APPLY.

Kansas law related to polling locations

Kansas law specifies that “[a]ll unified school districts shall make suitable school buildings available for polling places.” But county election officials moved the polling site to an “exhibition hall in what amounts to an urban wilderness.”

According to The Guardian, “The local schools superintendent even offered to make buildings available.”

However, officials in Kansas – just like the ones in a rural Georgia county – claimed that the two sites were chosen to meet federal accessibility requirements.

Dodge City consolidated voting into a single polling station at the civic center in the mid-1990s after a new federal law on access for people with disabilities meant that many existing places people went to vote could no longer be used. What was intended as a temporary measure became the norm.

The civic center just happens to be in the heart of the white part of Dodge City and next to the country club and its golf course. A demographic map of the city shows it is largely segregated by a single road, Comanche Street. To the north are the white neighborhoods. South are almost entirely Latino.

In Georgia, officials in one county back-pedaled after a national spotlight in August, although polls closed in other counties. In Kansas, the spotlight was lit late.

Early voting is downtown  at the county’s elections office. Cox on early voting in the New York Times:

Ms. Cox said that advance voting was being offered in downtown Dodge City on several days, including some evenings and a weekend.

Early voting hours on the Ford County elections website is tucked away on a PDF under the link “important dates.”

ford elections office

Like the entry for absentee ballots, this entry needed a proofreader (“pm” is listed as “p”):

ford county early voting

It would be straightforward to list those dates on the elections page – which contains only four links – thus making important voter information more easily accessed. Like this (edited so that each date is on its own line)

  • September 22: deadline for county to mail UOCAVA ballots
  • October 16: last day to register to vote for November 6 General Election
  • October 18: in-office advance voting begins (M-F, hours 9:00 am to 4:30 pm)
  • October 30: in-office voting 9:00 am to 7:00 pm
  • November 1: in-office voting 9:00 am to 7:00 pm
  • November 3: in-office voting 10:00 am to 2:00 pm
  • October 30: deadline for voters to apply for advance (absentee) ballots
  • November 5: in-office voting ends at noon
  • November 6: Election Day, polls open 7:00 am to 7:00 pm

Directions to in-office voting

Featured image: ACLU Kansas

What do you think?