Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Dodge City, Kansas, has one polling site for 13,000 voters

Voting in the contentious midterm elections may be difficult for many in the iconic Wild West town of Dodge City: there's only one polling place in the town of 27,000 (with more than 13,000 voters). "Since 2002, the lone site was at the civic center just blocks from the local country club — in the wealthy, white part of town," Roxana Hegeman reports for The Associated Press. "For this November’s election, local officials have moved it outside the city limits to a facility more than a mile from the nearest bus stop, citing road construction that blocked the previous site."

Dodge City is one of the few cities in the state where minorities (Hispanics, in this case) outnumber whites, mostly because of nearby meatpacking plants. But local Hispanic voter turnout in Ford County during non-presidential elections is 17 percent, compared to 61 percent turnout for white voters. Comparatively, the national turnout rate for Latino voters was 27 percent in record-low year 2014, Hegeman reports.

Voting rights activists have criticized Dodge City's lack of polling sites for years, arguing that it contributes to the town's low Hispanic voter turnout. "Hispanic voters tend to vote Democratic and could be a factor in Kansas’ tight governor’s race featuring a champion of immigration restrictions, Republican Kris Kobach, against Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly," Hegeman reports.

"Ford County Clerk Debbie Cox did not return messages seeking comment. Kansas Elections Director Bryan Caskey said Cox had no choice but to move the polling site due to the road construction, adding she did the best she could to find a suitable location," Hegeman reports. "She also contacted every voter and sent out advance voting applications in English and Spanish, he said."

The town had more polling sites until the Americans with Disabilities Act of 2002 imposed more stringent requirements for accessibility to polling places, according to Ford County Democratic Party Chairman Johnny Dunlap. And in the three years after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, 868 polling places across the nation closed.

In nearby Barton County, the county clerk cut the number of polling places from 23 in the primary to 11 for the general election in an effort to save money in hiring poll workers, Hegeman reports. Some Barton voters will have to go 18 miles to get to the closest polling site in November.

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