ByDebra DeCoster, Kansas City Hispanic News
Ann Murguia, 3rd District, acknowledges that she was aware that some people wanted the location changed
For years, voters in the Argentine neighborhood would cast their vote at the Joe E. Amayo Argentine Community Center. Then a new police station was built and in a matter of months election officials moved the polls inside the new police station not knowing that some voters were not pleased with that decision.
The voters' polling location in the Joe E. Amayo Argentine community in Kansas City, Kansas has been inside the Argentine Community Center for decades. Last year, the polling location was changed to the community room at the Kansas City, Kansas South Patrol police station. Some voters in the district expressed their concern that casting their votes at a police station was intimidating to some voters and kept others from turning out to vote.
A letter was sent by Lauren Bonds, Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU-KS) to Wyandotte County Election Commissioner Bruce Newby, expressing their concern over the polling place change.
Bonds wrote, “The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas (ACLU-KS) writes to express grave concerns about the decision to locate a polling location in a predominantly minority precinct at the Kansas City, Kansas police station. Mistrust between Black and Brown communities and the police is well-known as is the chilling effect law enforcement presence can have on voter participation. Requiring voters of color to cast their ballot in a police station will discourage turnout and deny their constitutionally protected right to vote.”
Alternate voting locations were suggested in their letter. They asked Bruce Newby to consider Argentine Middle School, the Argentine Community Center again, the South Branch Public Library or the Metropolitan Avenue United Methodist Church. They did not receive a response from the election commissioner. Kansas City Hispanic News reached out to Newby at the election office and each time was told by the receptionist answering the telephone, they could put us through to his voice mail. Our reporter left several messages and Newby did not return the phone calls. Hispanic News also called and left messages with the Kansas Secretary of State office regarding this matter but did not hear back from the Secretary of State office as of press time.
Wyandotte County Commissioner Ann Murguia, 3rd District, told Hispanic News that she was aware that some people wanted the location changed.
“As elected officials we represent the majority of the people, I don’t know how many people are upset about that (polling location). I have posted a Facebook page asking people for their feedback about this and I will forward that on to the election commissioner. Commissioners don’t have any control over the polling place in their area,” she said.
The Wyandotte County Election Office selected South Patrol as the polling location for voters in precincts 7-1,7-2, 7-3, 7-4, 7-5 and 7-6. These precincts are largely Hispanics.
Recently, Commissioner Murguia sent the responses on her Facebook page from the public to the election commissioner in Wyandotte County and posted on Facebook what he said.
“I spoke to the election Commissioner Bruce Newby. He told me that he is 90 percent sure voting will go back to Argentine Rec and he also said they may offer voting at the library as well. Thanks for everyone’s feedback. I will let you all know when things are final.”
Faith Rivera, who has been working alongside the ACLU-KS group to get the location changed, was surprised to hear the news that Commissioner Murguia released.
“Currently no one has been in contact formally with the ACLU stating that the polling station will be moved and adding the library. When we were asked to find alternative locations, we asked to have the polling station at the South Branch Library. It was not met with welcome arms stating that the rooms were too small. I believe they are actually bigger than the (police) community room,” said Rivera.
She hopes that they will see a change in the polling place when the next election takes place later this year.
“I feel our grassroots efforts have helped the election commissioner change his mind. We have been very diligent in our thoughts and opinions. Working side-by-side with the ACLU, writing the Secretary of State and the election commissioner, we made our voices heard and we are glad they have listened to the community. I hope Mr. Newby understands and sympathizes with our concerns and our community. As one person commented on Facebook, if one person is intimidated, that’s one too many. That is exactly why we wanted the polling station moved from the South Patrol community room,” she stated.
The ACLU expressed a legal concern in the letter. “It is well established that police presence at polling locations can have the effect of intimidating voters and discouraging turnout. Selecting KCKPD South as a polling location likely violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1964. The VRA prohibits local governments from implementing election practices that deny or limit a citizen’s right to vote based on their ethnicity or race. This includes the use of polling places where minority voters would be intimidated from entering.”
Judy Ancel, resident, wrote on Commissioner Murguia Facebook, “There are plenty of people of color in Argentine who are wary of the police. Not so long ago the KCK police had a reputation for shooting black men for no good reason. Latinos born here as well as naturalized citizens get pulled over and asked about their immigration status. So, asking people to vote in a police station can be intimidating and can discourage them from voting. We should be encouraging all people who are qualified to vote. Much better to have the polling place at the Library or Community Center.”
Missy Alvarado, resident, wrote, “South patrol wasn’t bad. But what I did notice was it was very small. It was raining during last election and people were outside in the rain. It was nice when it was at the community center with more room to “breathe.” Or even the library. I commented on that and was told because we are such a small district, etc. but I don’t believe we are.”
Jennifer Polo said, “I feel it is intimidating for some. Parking was good. Moving around in there was not as good as at the community center. Would be great to have at the library. Would get more foot traffic to showcase the library and people’s kids could browse while waiting.”
Joe Segura stated, “As a minority, never even thought twice about it being at the police station. I get the intimidation factor, but as said previously, if you don’t have any reason for fearing arrest, not sure how the location is intimidating.”