A federal judge ruled Thursday that adding a second Dodge City polling site five days before Election Day wasn’t in the public’s interest and would likely cause confusion for voters.
U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree heard nearly three hours of testimony, later filing the order rejecting the ACLU’s request for a temporary restraining order.
While the ACLU argued that adding a second Dodge City polling site would prevent irreparable disenfranchisement, Brad Schlozman, an attorney for Ford County, said doing so would provoke “schizophrenic whiplash” in voters.
The ACLU of Kansas brought the lawsuit last week against Ford County clerk Deborah Cox after Dodge City’s sole voting site was relocated outside city limits because of a planned construction project. The ACLU sought an emergency injunction to keep the original polling place open for the Nov. 6 election.
“The right to vote at issue in this case can’t be understated,” said Lauren Bonds, an attorney for ACLU of Kansas.
Opening a second polling site is critical to preserving the fundamental right to vote, she added.
Schlozman, however, said the ACLU’s case was predicated on anecdotal stories containing idiosyncratic circumstances. Schlozman accused plaintiffs of “significantly exaggerating” the burden being placed on voters.
The ACLU of Kansas called three witnesses, including plaintiff Alejandro Rangel-Lopez, who appeared by phone. The Dodge City High School senior, who turned 18 on Monday, said civic participation — particularly as a first-generation American — was important.
While the original polling location at the Civic Center wasn’t ideal, especially for some Hispanic voters, Rangel-Lopez said it was more centrally located than the new site at the Expo Center, which is in the “middle of nowhere.”
The western Kansas town has about 27,000 people, with more than half being Hispanic.
Rangel-Lopez also reported that some people weren’t aware of the location change or transportation options.
Dodge City is offering free door-to-door rides to the Expo Center on Election Day.
Cox defended the move, saying she had concerns that construction that was supposed to begin in October at the Civic Center would obstruct parking. Construction hasn’t started, but Cox said she had no way of knowing it would be delayed when she decided in September to relocate the polling place.
After 294 people were sent a notification last week that listed the wrong voting location, Cox said she sent out a correction notice clarifying the correct location.
Mark Johnson, an attorney for the plaintiffs, appeared to portray Cox as being out of touch with some voters. He asked Cox if she had ever used public transportation in Dodge City, to which Cox replied no. She also said she didn’t think there were white and Hispanic parts of town.
Outside of Dodge City, Ford County has three other polling sites, serving about 2,000 registered voters, Cox testified. Johnson contrasted this with Dodge City, which has one location for about 13,000 registered voters.
During testimony, Bryan Caskey, the state’s director of elections, said that at this point, it wasn’t advisable to open the original site because Kansas statute requires voters to be assigned to one particular polling site. He said poll books and equipment would have to be updated, and other requirements, such as complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act, would also have to be taken into consideration.
Crabtree wrote that reopening the Civic Center, “likely would create more voter confusion than it might cure.”
However, he took issue with an email Cox sent to Caskey last month.
The email included an attachment from the ACLU publicizing its election protection project, to which Cox wrote “LOL.” Cox used the acronym for “laugh out loud” as a way of saying “here we go again,” she testified Thursday, explaining that she previously had experienced issues with the election protection project.
The comment “questions whether it manifests a disregard for the ‘fundamental significance’ that our Constitution places on the right to vote,” Crabtree opined.
Micah Kubic, executive director of ACLU of Kansas, said he was disappointed by the judge’s decision. However, Kubic said the ACLU would continue to pursue other issues presented in the legal action and believes a second polling place eventually will be added for Dodge City voters.