Hearing set on request for original polling site to reopen in Dodge City

Published: Oct. 26, 2018 at 2:34 PM CDT
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Tuesday, October 30, 2018

A federal judge set a hearing for 9:30 a.m. Thursday before a judge in Topeka on the American Civil Liberties Union's (ACLU's) request, that Ford County reopen its original polling location in Dodge City.

In the lawsuit, the ACLU contends that some newly registered voters were still sent notices listing the old voting location and claimed the farther-away location would be less accessible for elderly, physically disabled, low-income and Hispanic voters.

Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister says he will send a member of his staff to observe in-person the voting in Dodge City.

His office released the following statement Tuesday afternoon:

“As Attorney General Jeff Sessions emphasized in a release earlier today, ‘Voting rights are constitutional rights, and they’re part of what it means to be an American. The Department of Justice has been entrusted with an indispensable role in securing these rights for the people of this nation.’ In light of the concerns recently raised with regard to the polling place situation in Ford County, the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Kansas will have one or more lawyers present in Dodge City on Election Day to observe the election process. To be clear, the U.S. Attorney’s office has not intervened in pending litigation, nor is it taking any position regarding that litigation. At this time, we are simply taking a basic step to observe the election with the hope that all goes smoothly in Ford County, so that each and every voter’s constitutional right to vote is honored and fully protected.”

McAllister’s office filed a notice with the court Tuesday announcing his intentions to the court and the parties involved in a civil lawsuit filed by the League of United Latin American Citizens against the Ford County Clerk’s Office.

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Monday, October 29, 2018

An attorney for the elections official who sent newly registered voters a notice with the wrong location for its lone polling site in Dodge City has told a federal judge that it is "not humanly possible" at this late date to open a second polling site before the November election.

But the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas countered during a conference call Monday that it filed its litigation after sending Ford County Clerk Deborah Cox three letters. She forwarded one to the Kansas secretary of state's office, with the notation "LOL." The ACLU says if there is a problem, it is of her creation.

The ACLU is seeking an order for another voting site.

U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree gave the parties until Tuesday to file written arguments.

Monday, Dodge City Mayor Kent Smoll addressed the issue in a letter to citizens. Smoll says the decision to relocate the polling location "is the responsibility of the Ford County Clerk."

"The City of Dodge City is not charged with that responsibility," he says.

Smoll lined out "facts as they now exist" in hopes of clearing up confusion and helping people better understand the city's role ahead of the Nov. 6 election.

Smoll says the county has maintained a single polling location in Dodge City for more than two decades and "when the county clerk determined the polling location would be temporarily moved, she notified all registered voters, both in English and Spanish.

Information in this letter included the temporary change in location, information on the opportunity for advanced voting in the heart of Dodge City, proximity of the Government Center to the main public transportation bus hub, a reminder of advance voting times in the county clerk's office and a reminder about the Oct. 4 announcement that the city would provide free public transportation for voters to get to and from the new polling site.

"The city and county have worked together to accomplish a tremendous amount of success. I do not foresee it being different in this case," Smoll says. "Conversations have begun with the county clerk in regards to establishing at least one more polling location for future elections. We want to encourage everyone to go out and exercise their right to vote and I would like to remind everyone in closing that if you need transportation for voting, call and schedule a ride with Dodge City Public Transportation at 620-371-3879."

(Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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Update:

Ford County has obtained outside legal counsel following a lawsuit filed by the ACLU. The agency wants a judge to order the county to re-open a former polling site at the Dodge City Civic Center.

The county says it is aware media reports and social media posts pertaining to a temporary restraining order but has yet to be served with any official documentation.

The county says over the past two decades, it has maintained a single polling place for all elections. The county also said it chose to move to the new site -- outside of the Dodge City limits -- for a number of reasons, including the building's ability to handle large crowds.

The county calls the lawsuit "meritless".

"There was no intent whatsoever to discriminate against any group of voters in the selection of this location no will its use have the effect of discriminating any group of voters," reads a release.

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Friday, October 26, 2018

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas is seeking a court order to open an additional voting site in Dodge City after the election office sent new registrants a notice with the wrong location for its lone polling site.

The lawsuit filed Friday in federal court in Kansas seeks a temporary restraining order on behalf of the League of United Latin American Citizens and voter Alejandro Rangel-Lopez.

Ford County Clerk Deborah Cox did not return a call for comment.

Cox recently moved the polling site from the Civic Center to a facility located outside city limits because of construction.

The lawsuit asks the court to order Cox to also reopen the original polling site to avoid confusion since many registrants received notices directing them to vote there in November.

(Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)