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Judge will not order Ford County to open second polling location in Dodge City

Published: Nov. 1, 2018 at 1:10 PM CDT
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Update: Thursday night, Nov. 1, 2018

A federal judge says Ford County will not have to open a second polling location in Dodge City.

Voting for Dodge City will remain at the Western Kansas State Bank Expo Center, outside the city. To help voters get to and from the expo center Tuesday, the city will provide free public transportation.

Voters can schedule their ride to get to the polls by calling 620-371-3879.

The decision to keep the changed, single voting site in Dodge City was handed down late Thursday evening.

Judge Daniel Crabtree's decision, in part, boils down to timing as it's too late to open another voting location in Dodge City with less than one week until Election Day.

He said Ford County would have to reprogram the voter registration database, assign new locations and notify all voters of where they'd have to vote.

He also said Ford County Clerk Debbie Cox has notified voters of the voting-location change through several outlets: by letter, through mail and on the Ford County website.

The judge said opening another location would most likely create more confusion and that it's not in the public's interest for this to happen.

Crabtree also rejected an argument that a new voting location was needed because of overcrowding. He said he understands that opening a second location might help, but the plaintiffs in this case have had 20 years to make that claim and fix it if there's a problem.

Ultimately, the judge ruled there isn't enough evidence currently to show the ACLU would prevail if this case did go to trial.

The only polling location that will be open on Election Day for Dodge City voters is the Expo Center, just outside the city.

Thursday night, the ACLU of Kansas responded to the judge's decision, as expected, expressing disappointment. but also some encouragement that came from the ruling and "about our prospects as our case moves forward."

"We should say at the onset that this is just a portion of a larger, continuing case and while we may have lost a round, our fight continues,"

The ACLU says had the county clerk's decision not to open a new polling site come down sooner, their case may have prevailed as there would have been more time to react.

"(Ford County Clerk Debbie Cox) can rest easy -- for now -- that she was able to run out the clock. We're all left to wonder, however, what might have been accomplished had she merely chosen to work with us and with our clients."

The ACLU points out that nowhere in Crabtree's ruling did the judge say the Expo Center is a good voting site, only that it's too difficult to change this close to Election Day.

The ACLU also mentions the judge's comments where he expressed concern about the way in which the Ford County clerk handled the voting-site change and some miscommunication issues that ensued following the decision to make the change.

"It seems clear to us from his words in the decision that our case is moving in the right direction," The ACLU says. "We believe that Dodge City voters will get another polling place since, as one of our attorneys pointed out, one polling station for 13,000 voters in Dodge City, but three polling places for 1,300 people for the rest of Ford County simply makes no sense." Our clients will get the relief they seek, eventually."

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A hearing on the lone polling place in Dodge City ends without a federal judge handing down a ruling.

Ford County said it moved the polling location from the Dodge City Civic Center to the Western Kansas State Bank Expo Center, outside the city, due to construction at the civic center.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Ford County after some new voters were sent mail listings for the old polling place.

The ACLU says it wants Ford County to open the Civic Center as a second polling place in addition to the Expo Center.

Attorneys for the nonprofit organization argue that voters are confused and that the location move from the Civic Center inside Dodge City to the Expo Center outside of the city limits will be a burden on minority and low-income voters.

Ford County Clerk Debbie Cox spoke in the defense saying the county's gone to great lengths to make sure everyone can vote.

In court, the county's attorney showed flyers and letters that were sent out and published in newspapers telling voters about the changes. The city is also offering free door-to-door bus rides to get people to and from the Expo Center.

Cox said the county picked the Expo Center because of its ability to handle large crowds and it's accessibility for people with disabilities.

The judge did not give a timeline on when a decision would be made.