The Salina Journal, Oct. 27
This month’s Jim Crow Award goes to Dodge City and Barton County, where officials have come up with a new way to make voting difficult if not impossible.
Dodge City, population 27,000- and with roughly 13,000 registered voters — is limited to one polling place. In an excellent story late last week, Roxana Hegeman of the Associated Press reported that since 2002 the city’s lone polling site had been at the Civic Center in a wealthy part of town; this year, officials moved it out of the city “to a facility more than a mile from the nearest bus stop.”
Lindsborg, pop. 3,500, has four polling sites; Salina, pop. 48,000, has 35.
The single polling site for 13,000 voters in Dodge is more than ten times the average 1,200 voters per polling site at other locations, according to Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU in Kansas.
Officials said road construction in Dodge City had blocked access to the Civic Center polling place. It had to move. Thus, arduous voting made remote.
In Barton County, some voters will face the chore of heading 18 miles to their closest polling site. Officials there have cut the number of polling places by more than half, from 23 open during the August primary to 11 for the general election.
Barton County Clerk Donna Zimmerman told Hegeman she wanted to save money by hiring fewer poll workers. She said the county would “test the waters” to see if it could get by with fewer voting machines at fewer sites.
Fewer voters, too.
In Dodge City, officials have leaned on the Americans with Disabilities Act as a convenient excuse for wiping away all but one polling place. The city had multiple voting locations, they said, until the ADA in 2002 imposed “more stringent” requirements for accessibility to polling places.
The Americans with Disabilities Act became federal law in 1990.
Most schools, governmental buildings, commercial structures and service facilities, including nursing homes, have long been ADA compliant, hardly a barrier in communities that encourage citizens to vote.
It’s doubtful that voter suppression in Kansas, with minorities a special target, is limited to Dodge City and Barton County. Squeezing out the undesirables has long been a goal of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the state’s chief election officer who keeps a keen eye on local election officials and a firm thumb on the process. He has been elected and reelected for his vows to purify the electorate, for his delusions that “illegal aliens” threaten to take control of our elections.
In Dodge, legal Hispanics comprise 60 percent of the population. But voter turnout among eligible Latinos there has been well below the national participation of 27 percent, according to the Pew Research Center, Hegeman reports.
Endless lines and hours-long waits are nothing new for voters in Dodge and Barton County. The effect is not to embrace voting but to discourage it, especially in areas populated with undesirables down low, as defined by the people up high.
Elections in Kansas were once celebrated for their inclusion, for election officers who worked to increase voter turnout. Then came the platform to increase voter absence, to cleanse the electorate of its messy, subordinate ranks.
Democracy itself can be messy - especially in Kansas, where so many have been invited to live but not to vote.
The Lawrence Journal-World, Oct. 29
Voters deserve much better
Issues that have risen in the past week raise concerns about voting in Kansas and underscore the need for the Legislature to tackle serious election reforms.
Last week, an uproar emerged in Dodge City, a southwest Kansas town of 27,000 that moved its only polling place from the civic center in Dodge City to a site outside of the city. To compound matters, Ford County sent newly registered voters an official certificate of registration that listed the wrong place to cast a ballot in the general election. Dodge City is majority Hispanic, and the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit arguing the polling place decision will make it more difficult for Hispanics with less access to transportation and less flexible work schedules to exercise their right to vote.
The ACLU is seeking an injunction that would force Ford County to open a second polling location in Dodge City.
In a separate incident, Lawrence voter Jennifer Tucker was forced to cast a provisional ballot when she voted early. Tucker was told her name was deleted from the voter registration list on Oct. 12.
It turns out that another person named Jennifer, with a different last name but the same date of birth, recently moved to Ellsworth County and registered to vote there. Ellsworth County Clerk Shelly Vopat said that when her office entered that person’s information into the statewide voter database, the system automatically flagged Tucker’s registration as a possible match, and a clerk in her office mistakenly confirmed it as a match, thereby deleting Tucker’s Douglas County registration.
One has to wonder, how many other voters are victims of such clerical errors? Provisional ballots are used far more often in Kansas elections than almost any other state. In the 2016 election, Kansas used more than 40,000 provisional ballots and rejected more than 13,000. Only six states - all significantly larger than Kansas - rejected more ballots.
Elections officials should bend over backward to make voting as accessible and open as possible. But the Tucker incident and the episode in Dodge City both indicate that the opposite is happening.
A major problem is that Kansas has little uniformity when it comes to election laws. County election officials have broad discretion to decide, for instance, which provisional ballots to discard and how many polling places to use.
That shouldn’t be. Red flags are being raised around Kansas elections and the time is past due to adopt legislation that advocates for voters. There should be a minimum number of polling places per registered voter. There should be consistency across the state on when provisional ballots are used and discarded.
Election officials should do all they can to support and help voters. Too often in Kansas, it appears the opposite is true.
The Kansas City Star, Oct. 28
Sorry, Kris Kobach, but Kansas is only the 9th-hardest state in which to vote ‘ The Kansas City Star
Kansas, how embarrassing. Really, we’re only the ninth-hardest state in which to vote? Given all the energy that’s gone into making casting a ballot as difficult as possible here, this is hardly an impressive showing.
We not only let the likes of Mississippi and Tennessee get ahead of us in this regard - behind us, really, unless you remember that up is down. Turns out, even Indiana and Ohio have stocked their moats with more alligators, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Northern Illinois.
Kansas’ one clear slip-up was allowing early voting, unlike in Missouri, where who knows how many people who try to vote give up if the lines are too long on Election Day.
Otherwise, Kansas gets consistently high marks for building all kinds of little walls around its voting booths.
Much of the credit for this lack of access goes to Secretary of State and GOP gubernatorial nominee Kris Kobach. But then, his Democratic rival, state Sen. Laura Kelly, also voted for Kobach’s voter ID law, key provisions of which were ruled unconstitutional.
Kobach showed his commitment to this suppressive exercise by getting himself held in contempt for failing to comply with the direct order of a federal judge to fully register the thousands of Kansas voters who had registered at the DMV but had not provided proof of citizenship.
Of course, there’s no same-day registration in Kansas, where registration closes a highly effective 21 days before Election Day.
There’s no automatic voter registration, either, though the opt-out rather than opt-in system that 13 states and the District of Columbia now use not only increases registration rates but also cleans up voter rolls and saves money.
This new study was based on the 2016 election. This year’s relocation of the only polling place in Dodge City, where 60 percent of the population is Hispanic, to a place outside Dodge City, more than a mile from the nearest bus stop, will surely make Kansas even more of a standout next time.
Still, there will be competition. There have been massive purges of legal voters in Georgia, where Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp is, like Kobach, overseeing his own election.
And let’s not underestimate North Dakota, where a new law requires that every voter has a street address on his or her voter ID - in a state where Native Americans living on reservations do not have street addresses.
To stay near the bottom of the pack in access to the basis of all democracy, Kansas can’t afford to get complacent.
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