I’m from Dodge City, known historically as the “Cowboy Capital,” but also as the Wickedest Little City. The latter holds true today. It’s a latino-majority community run by a group of people as diverse as a 1950s television ad which is to say, not at all.
Since the meat packing plants arrived in the 1970s, the diversity of my town has exploded as immigrants moved into the area seeking their own version of the American Dream. That includes my parents who stand as proof that the Dream the Founding Fathers imagined and that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., beautifully articulated remains alive today.
However, the progress sought through the Civil Rights Movement and the Voting Rights Act is under attack by people suppressing the votes and the dreams of our society’s most vulnerable people.
We are locked into a fight between left and right, when the conversation should be about what is morally correct. Access to polling places shouldn’t be a partisan issue, but in Dodge City, across our state and across our country, it is.
Dodge City for example, has a population of nearly 30,000 people and 14,000 registered voters, but has just one polling place located in a white, affluent area of town. It is the state’s most over-burdened polling location. By comparison, the second most burdened polling location is in Wichita with 7,000 assigned voters.
This is what happens when democracy is left in the hands of those who don’t care about their neighbor’s rights.
What made Dodge City wicked in the past was the crime swirling from saloons. Today, a different kind of crime serves a more sinister purpose: stripping people’s voting rights.
Now, a month before the midterms, I’m fighting for a future where the voter suppression we see in Dodge City would be unimaginable. Secretary of State Kris Kobach has worked tirelessly to strip people of their voting rights, establishing the nation’s strictest voter suppression policies.
Thankfully, the court has struck down many of those barriers as unconstitutional, but this system is far from fixed.
Kobach’s gubernatorial campaign rests on a platform of hatred and drags our state into the past rather than lifting it into the future. His voter suppression policies overtly threaten the poor and people of color. If he really wanted to stop voter fraud, he’d allow the best antidote for it – Election day registration. Nothing’s more secure than showing your registration, ID and ballot, in person, to an election official. Seventeen states have this in place, and we could, too. It would expand voting access here by tens of thousands. But Kobach only wants to expand his demonstrably disastrous policies.
But that’s where we come in.
We must organize grassroots efforts to change the way our communities and states are run. We must create systems of equality and dismantle systematic racism and poverty.
True change comes from us, the people.
Let’s secure the future we deserve, and leave the wickedness of voter suppression precisely where it belongs – in our past.
Alejandro Rangel is a high school student from Dodge City. This letter originally ran in the Dodge City Telegram.