Polling Stations Closing Due to Lack of Funds
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Photo: Getty/PrtSc

Polling Stations Closing Due to Lack of Funds


WICHITA, KANSAS — October 22, 2018

Only three weeks remain until the midterm congressional elections. However, not every state is ready for voting. For example, in the town of Dodge City, Kansas, home to 30,000 there is only one polling station.

And, of course, this is all going down during a time of heightened tension between the parties. So, let's start in order.

The main opponents in Kansas are Republican Kris Kobach and Democratic State Sen. Laura Kelly.

Now, according to a new order from local officials who are Democrats, if Dodge City residents want to vote on Election Day, they will have to travel outside the city to a polling place located more than a mile away from the nearest bus stop.

And the road to the polling station is now even more difficult because of the busy railroad tracks that pass over it.

According to last year’s census, the population is 27,000 due to the influx of Hispanic immigrants who work in the two massive meat-packing plants. The city's voter rolls contain in excess of 13,000 individuals. The average Kansas polling site serves around 1,200 voters during any given election. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Kansas notes that this disparity makes Dodge City's sole location "one of the most burdened polling places in all of Kansas."

"It is shocking that we only have one polling place, but that is the only kind of scratching the surface of the problem," said Johnny Dunlap, chairman of the Ford County Democratic Party. "On top of that, not only is it irrational and ridiculous that we have only one polling place, but Dodge City is one of the few minority-majority cities in the state."

According to the Pew Research Center, the Hispanic turnout during the non-presidential elections was only 17% compared to 61% white turnout in Ford County in 2014. That’s lower than the national rate of 27% among Latin American eligible voters in 2014, which itself was a record low.

Kansas ACLU Executive Director Micah Kubic did not mince words about what this meant in real terms: "Thousands of Hispanic voters on the south side of town now have a harder time voting.”

Republican Party officials insist their hands are tied.

Kansas Elections Director Bryan Caskey, who was appointed by and works directly under Kris Kobach’s authority, said the county had to move the polling location due to construction in the area.

Dunlap, however, noted that construction on the “huge” building had barely begun, and that most of the said construction was an addition that had little impact on the space previously used to house voting machines.

That is, in fact, there is no real reason why the polling station was moved to such a far distance. According to Dunlap, this artificial decision is an attempt to reduce the overall turnout, which would be in favor of the ruling party.

"It's terrible. What this has contributed is way below the average Spanish-speaking turnout in the Dodge city vote." Dunlap said. "But this is not a new problem. I met with [Ford County Clerk Debbie Cox] previously and implored her to increase the polling locations. She flatly refused. This is purposeful. She said it wasn't in her budget -- but she makes her own budget. She gave me a list of excuses but none of them hold water."

Recall that the Hispanic voter turnout in Dodge City was already below the national average in 2014, and this year, the difficulty of getting to the sole available polling place could make that number fall even further.

Now the low turnout is likely to do the job for itself. Kobach, known for his hatred of immigrants and limiting voting rights, is locked in a tough race with Democratic Senator Laura Kelly.

According to The Wichita Eagle, Dodge City is now at least 60% Hispanic, and since Hispanic voters overwhelmingly choose Democrats over Republicans, the paper notes, the removal of the city's lone polling station "could be a factor in Kansas' tight governor's race featuring a champion of immigration restrictions, Republican [Secretary of State] Kris Kobach [and] Democratic state Senator Laura Kelly."

Local Democrats and voting rights advocates say it’s no coincidence.

The experts at the American Political Science Review have also noted that the number and location of polling places in a county can have a significant impact on who votes.

Fewer polling places also can lead to longer lines, which may dissuade people from voting, the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, found. Knowing this, officials can change the outcome of an election by manipulating polling places.

Some local voters have long criticized the authorities for failing to act on future elections. Also, people are extremely unhappy that the authorities cannot solve the problem with the use of a single polling station in Dodge City.

Dodge City had several voting locations until the American with Disabilities Act in 2002 imposed more stringent requirements for accessibility to polling places.

Kansas is not the only state that has closed polling sites. Polling places across the country have also been shuttered since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. A 2016 report from the civil rights coalition Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights found local officials had shuttered 868 polling places in the three years since the court’s ruling.

Although this autumn it was stated that there are other efforts underway in counties in Illinois, Kansas, Mississippi, Ohio, and Wisconsin to move thousands of voters to new locations, the primary driving force for closing some of these polling places is a tight local budget.

Voters have been moved in some cases, but in Dodge City, they have been sent several miles outside of town, and there’s no money to open new polling stations.

Another Kansas county also has cut the number of polling places for November, although the Dodge City situation is the only place where voting rights activists have raised concerns.

This November, some Barton County voters will have to travel 18 miles to get to their closest polling site after officials there cut the number of polling places from the 23 that were open for this year’s primary to 11 for the general election, according to Barton County Clerk Donna Zimmerman.

Zimmerman said she consolidated them to save money in hiring poll workers. The county of about 27,000 residents in central Kansas wanted to “test the waters” to see if it could get by with fewer voting machines at fewer sites, she said.

"I watched as a kid the pain of losing a school and losing the post office and losing the grocery store and now losing the voting location and so it is something that is very near and dear to my heart," Zimmerman said of her decision. "It is a tough choice to move a voting location and it is certainly not one that didn’t happen with considerable thought."

Author: USA Really