By Mary Clarkin, The Hutchinson News
DODGE CITY - ACLU of Kansas this month relayed concerns it has heard about polling places in Dodge City to Ford County Clerk Debbie Cox.
The single voting site instituted over the past decade at the Civic Center has flaws, but the replacement single voting location for the Nov. 6 general election - the Western State Bank Expo Center south of Dodge City - is worse.
Freight trains bisecting the city could keep people from reaching the polls, and “meaningful notice” has not been provided in either English or Spanish to adequately inform voters of the change in polling location, according to an ACLU of Kansas email to Cox.
Cox told The News the Civic Center has been the voting site for Dodge City since at least 1998. The Americans with Disabilities Act prompted Ford County to designate the Civic Center as the polling place because other sites it had been using were not accessible, she said. The ACLU said that up until at least 2002 Dodge City had multiple polling locations, making access easier for residents.
Construction of an addition to the Civic Center was scheduled to start in October, and Cox said she needed a substitute voting site for this election that was both big enough and accessible. The Expo, about a mile south of the city, was chosen. Cox said a mailing was sent to voters and included an application to request for a mail ballot.
The Public Transportation buses will run regular routes on Election Day, but the system also will have bus service available for free rides to the Expo. People must call ahead - (620) 371-3879 - and schedule a ride, a spokeswoman said. Rides will be available on a first-come/first-served basis.
“We were pleased to learn that despite declining to meet with us that Cox has begun addressing some of her constituent’s concerns by notifying Dodge City residents of the location of the new polling site and suddenly offering free Election Day bus rides,” Micah Kubic, ACLU of Kansas executive director, said in a statement Friday.
Early voting at the Ford County Clerk’s office, 100 Gunsmoke, will begin on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Oct. 18, with the polls staying open until 7 p.m. on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 3.
Concerns about the Civic Center included the volume of voters there. It has 13,136 voters assigned to it, “making it the one of the most burdened polling place in all of Kansas,” the ACLU said Friday.
The average polling place in Kansas has 1,200 assigned voters, the ACLU said. The Kansas State Fairgrounds has 23,003 Hutchinson-area voters assigned to it, according to Reno County.
Also, the Civic Center is situated in the north part of the city, in a predominantly white and wealthier part of Dodge City, the ACLU pointed out.
“Thousands of Hispanic voters on the south side of town now have a harder time voting,” Kubic said.
Dodge City is one of Kansas’ only majority-minority counties, the ACLU said. More than 50% of its population is Hispanic.
“We’ve never had a complaint,” Cox said.
The ACLU has.
The organization said it was contacted by a Ford County resident in the fall of 2017 about voting issues and “Debbie Cox’s seeming unwillingness to help or even address the concerns.”
“The ACLU of Kansas did what Cox should have done -- we reached out to Dodge City School Superintendent Dr. Fred Dierksen about using additional school buildings as polling locations,” Kubic said Friday. “Dr. Dierksen said today that he would support working with the County Executive’s office to do just that.”
The civil liberties organization said the county should work to make sure voting is accessible to all eligible citizens.
“On behalf of her constituents,” Kubic said, “County Clerk Cox should open more voting sites, explain why they were closed in the first place, and institute a new, transparent policy preventing this from happening again.”