The ACLU filed a lawsuit Friday to force a Kansas county to open a second polling location in a majority-Hispanic city after it moved the only existing one to a location difficult to reach by public transportation.
The dispute involves the only polling location for Dodge City, a 27,000 person city in the southwest part of the state that is nearly 60 percent Hispanic. For well over a decade, the town has had just one polling place, located at a civic center.
But Debbie Cox, the clerk of Ford County, decided to move the single voting site farther outside of town, citing construction near the civic center, The Associated Press reported. The new location can’t be reached by sidewalks, according to The Wichita Eagle, and it sparked an outcry because it was a mile from the nearest bus stop, making it more difficult for people to get to the polls. Amid the uproar, officials voted to extend bus routes to the new polling location.
On Friday, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the county in federal court in Kansas City. In its complaint, the civil rights group argued the decision to have only one polling place so far away was unconstitutional and violated part of the Voting Rights Act that bars voting changes that disproportionately impact minority groups.
The complaint said getting to the lone polling location would be difficult for the more than 40 percent of households in the county that don’t own a car or share a single vehicle among family members. It further argued that people in Ford County rely on public transportation at a 10 percent higher rate than in the rest of Kansas, and that Hispanic workers are more likely than white workers to use those transportation options.
The group also said Cox could have used local schools as polling sites, but declined to do so, instead choosing the faraway location.
Cox did not respond to a request for comment.
Ford County Clerk Debbie Cox, on a request to publicize a voter help line
There is additional controversy surrounding the voting site. County election officials had also informed newly registered voters of the incorrect place to vote, listing the civic center location as their official polling site, according to The Associated Press. Officials said they were working to notify residents of the temporary change, but the ACLU said the county should reopen the original location to prevent confusion on Election Day.
“We think this is outrageous,” Micah Kubic, the executive director of the ACLU of Kansas, said in a statement. “We understand that there are people who believe voting is a privilege but we don’t. It is a right that must be fiercely protected. We can and must do better.”
In its lawsuit, the ACLU is asking a federal court to force the county to open an additional polling location in Dodge City for the November election and permanently require that all future polling locations be accessible by public transportation.
Before it filed its lawsuit on Friday, the ACLU contacted Cox about the change and asked her to publicize a voter help line. Cox forwarded the message to the office of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the state’s top election official and the Republican nominee for governor, with the message “LOL,” The Wichita Eagle reported. Cox told the Eagle the decision to move the polling site came out of a concern for safety and claimed her “LOL” message was intended to mean “here we go again.”