Despite a fight to keep open a polling place in Dodge City, Kansas, that had been more accessible for its mostly Latino residents, a federal judge is allowing the Ford County clerk to close it and instead open a polling site outside the city limits for Nov. 6 voting.
The ACLU of Kansas filed a lawsuit seeking a temporary restraining order against Ford County Clerk Debbie Cox last week after she closed the sole polling location in a city with a near 60 percent Latino population and opened a site out of town.
The ACLU argued that the new polling site, at an exposition center, is not accessible by public transportation and is on a route with few sidewalks.
“Additionally, the total travel time from a centrally located part of Dodge City to the Expo Center would take approximately ninety minutes each way for a voter using public transportation,” the suit charged.
U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree denied the request Thursday to force Cox to reopen the Civic Center polling place, citing concerns about the suit’s timing and potential voter confusion, The Associated Press reported.
“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,” Crabtree wrote in the ruling.
Cox decided to close Dodge City’s only polling site at its Civic Center after learning about plans for a construction project there, The Associated Press reported.
The county clerk reportedly acknowledged in court that the construction did not end up happening before the election, as she anticipated, according to The Wichita Eagle.
Cox also reportedly testified that she has since contacted the city government to arrange transportation from the Civic Center to the Western State Bank Expo Center, while acknowledging she has never taken public transportation in Dodge City herself, the Eagle reported.
HuffPost has reached out to Cox for comment but has not received a response.
Cox told the Eagle last week that her decision for the move was based on safety and that it was not done with “any racial intention at all.”
Lauren Bonds, the legal director of the ACLU of Kansas, said the organization sought to have the polling site at the Civic Center reopen in part because newly registered voters had received incorrect information from county election officials on where to cast a ballot for midterm elections.
Official registration certificates sent to new voters reportedly listed only the Civic Center as the official polling site, not the Expo Center.
“That’s why we thought the Civic Center was the best option in terms of polling locations,” Bonds told HuffPost.
County officials have since sent out correspondence clarifying the correct location of the polling place, the suit stated.
The ACLU sued the county on behalf of the League of United Latin American Citizens and 18-year-old Dodge City resident Alejandro Rangel-Lopez.
“As instilled by my parents, it’s very important to let people who have that opportunity to vote exercise that right to vote, and do anything possible to make it easier,” Rangel-Lopez, a high school senior, said in an interview on MSNBC last week.
The suit argued that the change in polling site disproportionately affects Latino and low-income voters in the city, which has a population of 27,000.
“Hispanic voters are overrepresented amongst [Dodge] City residents who are burdened by the... single, inaccessible polling location,” the suit read.
It added: “Defendant Cox is responsible for the decision to have only one polling location to serve the 13,136 voters in Dodge City.”
A news release by ACLU of Kansas director of strategic communications, Mark McCormick, stated that the organization was disappointed yet encouraged by Crabtree’s Thursday ruling.
“Nowhere in the ruling does the Judge say that the Expo Center site is a good one — only that it is too difficult to change at this point,” the release stated.
“Ford County Clerk Debbie Cox’s late decision and notice to voters left little room for the court to issue injunctive relief. Had voters learned of her decision sooner, our case may have prevailed.”
Crabtree noted in his ruling that Cox had notified the public about the polling location change on Sept. 28 via radio and newspaper advertisements, the media and the county’s website, the AP reported.
The suit had charged that many residents and organizations had not learned of the polling change until mid-October.
After the ACLU asked Cox to aid in the organization’s election protection efforts by publicizing a hotline last month, Cox forwarded that message to Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is the Republican nominee for governor, with the message: “LOL.”
In response to the “LOL” message, Cox testified Thursday: “I take it seriously, however, if I allow them to put something on my website, I would have to allow everyone to put something on my website,” The Eagle reported.
Crabtree noted in his ruling that he had “concerns” about the county clerk’s “LOL” comment and questioned “whether it manifests a disregard for the ‘fundamental significance’ that our Constitution places on the right to vote.”
The ACLU said, “It seems clear to us from his words in the decision that our case is moving in the right direction.”