The House Oversight Committee revealed Wednesday new information about how local election officials in Kansas botched the relocation of a polling place that put Dodge City’s single site for voting at a location more than a mile from the nearest bus stop.
The move by Ford County in 2018 to move the city’s sole polling place outside city limits prompted an ACLU lawsuit and national controversy, particularly because the city’s population is 60 percent Hispanic and the new location was not accessible by public transport or even sidewalk.
The move also prompted an investigation from the newly Democratic controlled House Oversight Committee, which also released on Wednesday details of parallel investigations into voting rights debacles in Texas and Georgia.
According to an update to those investigations the committee unveiled Wednesday, Ford County Clerk Debbie Cox dismissed concerns about how the relocation would affect voters, particularly those who don’t drive.
“The ones complaining do not even live here in Ford Co or some in Kansas,” she said in a September 2018 email released Wednesday.
Cox also participated in a phone interview with the committee, where, according to Wednesday’s release, she admitted that she did not bother to consult with community groups and other residents about the plan to move the polling site.
“That is solely my responsibility,” she told the committee, according to its release, when asked why she didn’t seek outside advice about the move.
She also told the committee, according to its summary, that she didn’t consider it her responsibility to arrange transport to the new polling site, nor did she have any plans initially to station people at the old site to direct voters to the new location. She said she only decided to those steps to mitigate the access issues after “all this blew up,” according to the committee’s summary.
Additionally, she admitted that some newly registered voters received registration confirmation notices that listed incorrectly the old polling place.
The committee did not release the full transcript of the interview. Cox did not immediately respond to TPM’s inquiry.
Ford County settled the lawsuit brought by the ACLU in 2019, while announcing that it would operate two polling places for the city’s 13,000 voters from then on.
During the litigation, a judge expressed concern about a Cox email where she said “LOL” to another official about ACLU’s request that she add its voter assistance hotline to the county election website.
Cox decided to move the polling place after learning the usual location was under construction that limited parking at it, according to the emails released Wednesday. She told a former clerk that “either way I will have complaints.”
“I know I will be damned if I do and damned if I don’t,” she said then about the decision to move voting to the new site.
The former clerk she consulted agreed she’d “catch flack” for the relocation, but said that it was the right thing to do, while joking about how the new site was a more convenient location for the former clerk.
In a later email, apparently after the controversy over the relocation had erupted, Cox complained that the “ACLU has their panties in a bunch” about there being just one voting location.
The ex-clerk Sharon Seibel, responded that, “People just need to get over themselves, they can drive to anything else they want to or they have someone take them, why is this different.”
Read the emails, as well as the committee’s report on its investigations, below:
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