By Jonathan Shorman, The Wichita Eagle
TOPEKA - A southwest Kansas county clerk doesn’t have to open a second polling site in Dodge City, a federal judge ruled on Thursday.
U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Crabtree said forcing Ford County Clerk Debbie Cox to open an additional polling location in Dodge City so close to the Nov. 6 election would not be in the public’s interest.
But Crabtree said he is troubled by Cox’s reaction to an American Civil Liberties Union letter, which Cox forwarded last week to a state official with the comment “LOL.”
Cox moved the city’s only polling place from a central location in town, the Civic Center, to the Expo Center half a mile outside the city limits this fall. The new location is not accessible via sidewalk and there is no regular public transportation there, though the city has said it will provide rides to voters.
The League of United Latin American Citizens and 18-year-old first-time voter Alejandro Rangel-Lopez had sued Cox in an effort to force her to open a second polling location.
The lawsuit will continue after the election. But for now, Crabtree made clear Cox can continue with the single, out-of-town polling place for the current election.
“For the court to insert itself into this process on the eve of the election — by ordering the reopening of the Civic Center either as the only polling location or a second polling location — likely would create more voter confusion than it might cure. The relief plaintiffs seek is not in the public’s interest,” Crabtree wrote.
The ACLU of Kansas, which spearheaded the lawsuit, said it was disappointed in the ruling. But the organization noted that Crabtree’s ruling doesn’t say the Expo Center location is good, only that it would be too difficult to change now.
“Had voters learned of (Cox’s) decision sooner, our case may have prevailed,” ACLU of Kansas director Micah Kubic said in a statement. “She can rest easy -- for now -- that she was able to run out the clock. We’re all left to wonder, however, what might have been accomplished had she merely chosen to work with us and with our clients.”
During a nearly three-hour long hearing earlier Thursday, both sides fought about whether a second polling location could be opened in such a short time.
An official in Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office raised concerns that opening a second location could open the sites up to double voting.
It would be impossible to compare the polling books of two polling places in real time to protect against double voting, said Bryan Caskey, the state director of elections.
“There’s no real time check” between the polling place and the state’s voter registration system, he said.