By Sherman Smith, The Topeka Capital-Journal
Three weeks before the November 2018 election, Ford County Clerk Debbie Cox vented frustration with her predecessor over the “big mess” erupting in their southwest Kansas community.
As the county’s chief election officer, Cox unilaterally decided to move the town’s only polling site in anticipation of a construction project she feared could interfere with Election Day traffic. The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas expressed concerns that the new location, located outside city limits and lacking public transportation, would disenfranchise a predominantly Latino community.
The single polling location served 13,000 registered voters.
“That is why ACLU has their panties in a bunch,” Cox wrote in an email exchange with retired county clerk Sharon Seibel.
Backlash over Cox’s decision, churning with racial themes, attracted national attention.
A report released Wednesday in advance of a hearing by the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform details findings from a congressional investigation into voter suppression in minority communities. The investigation uncovered the emails between Cox and Seibel and points to Cox’s failure to anticipate the burden she placed on voters who lacked the time or transportation to participate in the election.
The congressional investigation determined Cox moved the polling site “without conducting appropriate due diligence, without consulting with the local community, and without taking simple steps to reduce the impact of the move on thousands of voters until after a public outcry.”
Lauren Bonds, legal director for ACLU of Kansas, said the findings confirm the organization’s motivation for filing a lawsuit on Oct. 26, 2018, days before the Nov. 6 election. The new polling location, Bonds said, was “incredibly inconvenient.”
“I think it really goes back to indifference,” Bonds said. “That would be a reasonable concern most people would have if they were in touch with their constituents. It’s a logical outcome that was disregarded, that this would have a disparate impact on the Hispanic community and communities of color in Dodge City.”