Politics & Government

Concern raised about double voting in Dodge City polling place lawsuit

Dodge City’s only polling place moved outside of town

(OCTOBER 25, 2018) -- Wichita Eagle reporter Jonathan Shorman shows where Dodge City voters will head on Election Day, and how far it is from town.
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(OCTOBER 25, 2018) -- Wichita Eagle reporter Jonathan Shorman shows where Dodge City voters will head on Election Day, and how far it is from town.

Opening a second polling location in Dodge City just days before the election could open the sites up to double voting, an official in Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office said Thursday.

It would be impossible to compare the polling books of two polling places in real time to protect against double voting, said Bryan Caskey, the state director of elections.

“There’s no real time check” between the polling place and the state’s voter registration system, he said.

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The League of United Latin American Citizens and 18-year-old first-time voter Alejandro Rangel-Lopez are suing Ford County Clerk Debbie Cox in federal court, seeking to force her to open a second polling location.

Cox moved the city’s only polling place from a central location in town to the Expo Center half a mile outside the city limits this fall. The new location is not accessible via sidewalk and there is no regular public transportation there, though the city has said it will provide rides to voters.

Judge Daniel Crabtree didn’t immediately rule on whether Cox must open a second site after a nearly three-hour hearing. But he said he will issue a decision as quickly as possible. Election Day is Tuesday.

Kobach and Democratic Sen. Laura Kelly are locked in a tight race for Kansas governor. Kobach has prosecuted double voting cases and built much of his political career on promises of fighting voter fraud.

Caskey’s testimony marked the first time the possibility of voter fraud has been invoked as a possible reason not to open a second polling location in Dodge City.

Kansas law requires each voter to be assigned to a specific polling location, Caskey said. When voters go to the location, their name is checked against a list of voters assigned to that location.

But if a second location is opened containing the same list of registered voters, poll workers will have no way of knowing in real time whether an individual has already voted at the other site.

“I think it would not be advisable” to add another polling location now, Caskey said.

Mark Johnson, an attorney representing LULAC and Rangel-Lopez, raised the possibility of allowing the old polling site, previously at the city’s Civic Center, to be open. Voters who went there would vote provisionally.

Cox said in court that she had made calls to the city government as late as Thursday morning seeking to set up transportation from the Civic Center to the Expo Center. She also promised that signs would be posted at the old site telling voters where to go instead.

She continued to oppose adding a second polling location for the Nov. 6 election.

“I do not believe it could practically be done,” Cox said.

Johnson dismissed Cox’s complaints about the hurdles to opening a second site.

“This is a problem created and exacerbated by the defendant’s conduct over the past couple months,” Johnson said.

During cross-examination, Cox acknowledged that she has never taken public transportation in Dodge City. She also said that the reason she moved the polling place — construction at the Civic Center — did not end up happening before the election as she had anticipated. Multiple people testified Thursday that no construction is taking place at the site.

Johnson noted that while a single polling place serves Dodge City’s 13,000 registered voters, three other polling places serve about 1,300 registered voters in the rest of Ford County.

Last week, Cox sent Caskey an email with a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union asking her to publicize a voter help line. She added the comment “LOL” to the email.

Cox was asked about the “LOL” email on Thursday. She said the letter had asked her to put the ACLU’s help line on the county clerk’s website.

“I take it seriously, however, if I allow them to put something on my website, I would have to allow everyone to put something on my website,” she said.

Rangel-Lopez, a senior at Dodge City High School, testified by phone. He said that while the Civic Center location wasn’t ideal, it was more centrally located than the Expo Center site.

He said the city had stepped in with offers of free transportation to make up for the “shortcomings” of the county clerk’s office. And he pointed the lack of a sidewalk leading to the Expo Center.

“It’s just in the middle of nowhere,” Rangel-Lopez said.

Before the hearing, both sides offered dueling legal filings seeking to undercut the other’s case.

Cox is being represented by Bradley Schlozman, a Wichita attorney who was an acting head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division during the second Bush administration.

In Cox’s brief, prepared by Schlozman, she said that those suing her “have attempted here to elevate typical life vagaries and inconveniences to constitutional magnitude. Neither case law nor common sense support their claims.”

The lawsuit, Cox’s brief said, “is a recipe for disaster.”

Cox argued that her decision to move the city’s polling place to the Expo Center had no racial connections and that the site is equally open to all voters.

Claims that relocating the polling site will result in voters being unable to access the new site because of poverty, lack of transportation or other obligations are a “patronizing” offense to Dodge City residents, Cox said in her brief.

Cox’s brief is “tone-deaf” and dismisses the difficulties faced by voters because of an out-of-town polling site, Rangel-Lopez and LULAC said in their brief. And Cox is neither a low-income worker or Hispanic, they said.

“It is extremely entitled and deeply problematic for Defendant Cox to imply she is better suited to speak on behalf of either group than the state’s oldest Latino civil rights organization and actual members of the Hispanic community,” the plaintiffs write in their brief.

The lawsuit, filed last Friday, has been put on a fast track as the hours tick down to the election.

The lawsuit was initially set to be heard in Kansas City, Kan. Cox asked it to be moved to Wichita because of the distance from Dodge City. Crabtree settled on Topeka instead.

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