Views from Kansas: Trouble in Dodge City
Editor’s Note: Views from Kansas is a regular feature that highlights editorials and other viewpoints from across the state.
The October 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 recent story, 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, population 3,500, has four polling sites; Salina, population 48,000, has 35.
The single polling site for 13,000 voters in Dodge is more than 10 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 re-elected 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.
— Originally published in The Salina Journal