TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas county clerk who moved the only polling site in the historic Wild West town of Dodge City to a facility outside the city limits more than a mile from the nearest bus stop says it is not possible to add a second polling site for the upcoming election.
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree will hear arguments on a suit from the American Civil Liberties Union whether to force Ford County Clerk Deborah Cox to open another polling site in town for the midterm election.
The group says Cox refused for weeks to talk about improving the polling conditions prior to the lawsuit. During a telephone conference earlier this week, an ACLU lawyer told the judge that Cox forwarded one of their letters to the Kansas secretary of state’s office, with the notation “LOL.” Cox says the polling location had to be moved because of planned construction.
The ACLU noted that Cox moved the polling location just weeks before the election.
“She then compounded any confusion that abrupt change likely caused by incorrectly informing hundreds of newly registered voters that they could vote at the original voting location,” according to their court filing.
Dodge City once was a destination for cattle drives where cowboys and gunslingers tangled. In recent decades, meatpacking plants have drawn to the town thousands of Hispanics, who now make up a majority of the population.
The southwest Kansas city, located 160 miles (257 kilometers) west of Wichita, has only one polling site for its 27,000 residents. For two decades, the civic center in the mostly white part of town services all 13,000 voters. The average Kansas polling site services 1,200 voters, according to the ACLU. Cox sent a notice to voters on Sept. 28 that she was moving the location for the upcoming election outside the city limits to a facility that even she acknowledged in that mailing was inconvenient.
The ACLU sued on behalf of the League of United Latin American Citizens and Alejandro Rangel-Lopez, the 18-year-old son of Mexican immigrants who will be voting for the first time in November.
Their lawsuit alleges moving the only polling site outside the city makes it more difficult for the city’s majority Hispanic population to vote because they tend to have less access to transportation and are less likely to have flexible work schedules.
But Cox’s attorney, Bradley Schlozman, countered in a court filing Tuesday that those claims are groundless and the ACLU’s motion for a temporary restraining order is “filled with patronizing arguments that are offensive to the residents of Dodge City.”
He wrote that for voters without a vehicle, door-to-door bus service is being provided on Election Day to the polling site. Voters can also vote early both by mail and in person at the Ford County Government Center.
Crabtree pressed both parties earlier this week about whether they would appeal if he ruled against them on the issue of opening a second polling site for the upcoming election. ACLU lawyer Mark Johnson replied they would not appeal, adding “we will give the defendants that one and vigorously prosecute the case after the election.”
Schlozman replied that they would immediately appeal to the 10th Circuit.