Voting rights case costs Kansas county about $70,000 so far

DODGE CITY, Kan. — A county in western Kansas has paid more than $70,000 so far to a legal firm hired to defend an official who moved Dodge City’s only polling place to outside the iconic Wild West town ahead of the November election.

Ford County paid the Hinkle Law Firm $71,481 in October and November to defend County Clerk Debbie Cox, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported , based on a document it obtained through an open records request.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued Cox in late October after she moved Dodge City’s polling place, citing planned construction at the original site. The ACLU said the location, the Western State Bank Expo Center, a mile from the nearest bus stop was inconvenient for residents of the city, which has a population of 27,000 and is 60 percent Hispanic. Days before the midterm election, a federal judge rejected the ACLU’s effort to reopen the original site, but the lawsuit is continuing as the ALCU seeks to ensure Cox opens a second voting location in 2020.

Cox hired s attorney Bradley Schlozman, who is well-known in the legal community for defending states and towns accused of trying to restrict voting. She said money for his Wichita-based firm comes from the county’s general fund.

ACLU interim executive director Lauren Bonds noted the document obtained by the Capital-Journal shows fees only for October and November.

“Ford County Clerk Debbie Cox is using her constituents tax dollars to pay her lawyer rather than expand their access to voting,” Bonds said. “Cox has repeatedly argued that Ford County couldn’t afford to open additional polling locations, but it seems to us that $70,000 could easily cover the costs associated with additional poll workers and materials.”

Schlozman said in a statement that taxpayers should be upset with the ACLU for the continuing legal costs.

“It is a bit audacious for the ACLU to file a frivolous lawsuit against Ford County, predicated on allegations that are little more than patronizing stereotypes and abject condescension, and then criticize the county for having the temerity to defend itself with experienced election law counsel,” Schlozman said.

In a brief filed Wednesday in federal court, Schlozman argued that Cox has made it clear she intends to open at least two polling sites for future elections in Dodge City, beginning with 2019 local elections, and she doesn’t intend to use the Western State Bank Expo Center as a polling place again.

Johnny Dunlap, a Dodge City resident and member of Ford County Democrats, said he would like to see several polling locations for the city’s estimated 13,000 registered voters. The average Kansas polling site serves 1,200 voters.

“We have a majority-minority Hispanic population that is not being represented, that is not participating, and I think that whether or not that was done intentionally, the end result was the same — we don’t have people participating who should be and the current county clerk or administration or whoever is responsible doesn’t seem to be interested in changing that,” he said.

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