Kansas town’s only polling place moved outside city; lawsuit opposed change, but judge says it’s too late

DODGE CITY, Kan. — A federal judge has denied a request to open a new polling site in Dodge City, Kansas, after advocates said the current location would put Latino voter turnout there at risk.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas filed a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of a young Latino voter and the League of United Latin American Citizens after elections officials moved the only polling site for the city’s 27,000 residents from its historic downtown to the outskirts of the southwest Kansas city due to upcoming construction.

Ford County Clerk Deborah Cox notified registered voters of the change in the polling location on September 28.

ACLU attorneys urged US District Judge Daniel Crabtree to consider ordering Ford County officials to open a second polling place downtown. The location of the new polling place is more than a mile away from the nearest bus stop, they said, and many Latino voters don’t have flexible work schedules that will allow them to travel there.

“After observing my father’s voting experience during the 2014 and 2016 general elections, I am very concerned about the burdens that will be placed on me as a voter in Dodge City,” said Alejandro Rangel-Lopez, the voter named in the lawsuit, according to CNN affiliate KAKE. “During the last two elections, my father had to wait between one and two hours to cast his vote.”

The city’s population is roughly 59% Latino, the latest census data shows.

And voters all around Dodge City had voted at the original location — the Civic Center — for the last 20 years, the ACLU said.

Cox, the Ford County clerk and defendant in the suit, said the new location was the best option because it is owned by the county, it “meets the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act, and is large enough to accommodate the heavy voting traffic expected on Election Day,” court documents said.

On Thursday, Crabtree declined the ACLU’s request, saying it’s not in the public interest to open an additional polling location “on the eve of the election” five days away and explained it would create even more confusion.

“It would be extraordinarily difficult,” said the state’s Elections Director Bryan Caskey in court, KAKE reported. “It would be even more so without violating several state laws.”

In his decision, Crabtree also said officials would “need to reprogram the voter registration database to assign voters to a new location and then notify all voters of those newly assigned locations.”

In a statement following the ruling, ACLU of Kansas spokesman Mark McCormick said the organization was disappointed by the ruling but will continue fighting for change in the near future.

“We believe that Dodge City voters will get another polling place since, as one of our attorneys pointed out, one polling station for 13,000 voters in Dodge City, but three polling places for 1,300 people for the rest of Ford County simply makes no sense.”

The city’s residents will eventually get the relief they seek, McCormick said.