Voters in one Kansas city will literally have to leave town in order to cast their ballots on election day next week—a prospect that doesn’t seem to worry the county clerk, a Republican who literally laughed off a request from the ACLU to open a second, more accessible polling place ahead of the midterms.
A district court judge on Thursday ruled that residents of Dodge City, KS, a town of about 27,000 people, will be forced to travel outside city limits in order to cast their ballots, after a construction project near the town’s civic center prompted Ford County clerk Debbie Cox to move the community’s sole polling place to a different location outside of the city proper.
The new location—which is outside normal public transportation routes, and is not accessible via sidewalks—presented a problem for Dodge City resident and first-time voter Ashley Romero, 18. “I feel like workers who are not allowed to leave their job to vote will not be able to,” Romero told the New York Times.
“A lot of the voters that really are going to be affected by this election are not going to be able to vote,” she added.
So, with the help of the ACLU, Romero sued Cox, asking her to open a second polling location in a more accessible location. And upon receiving a letter from the ACLU offering voter assistance, Cox forwarded it to a colleague in the office of the Kansas Secretary of State—who is Kansas gubernatorial candidate and voter suppression aficionado Kris Kobach—with a simple message attached: “LOL.”
Nevertheless, despite voicing his concern for Cox’s priggish response to the ACLU, U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Crabtree ruled on Thursday against opening a second polling place so close to the upcoming midterm elections.
“For the court to insert itself into this process on the eve of the election— by ordering the reopening of the Civic Center either as the only polling location or a second polling location—likely would create more voter confusion than it might cure,” Crabtree wrote, following a lengthy hearing on the case.
However, despite the loss in this specific case, the ACLU saw some signs of hope in Crabtree’s ruling. In a statement, ACLU of Kansas director of strategic communications Mark McCormick wrote:
As for tonight’s ruling, Ford County Clerk Debbie Cox’s late decision and notice to voters left little room for the court to issue injunctive relief. Had voters learned of her decision sooner, our case may have prevailed. She 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.
Second, nowhere in the ruling does the Judge say that the Expo Center site is a good one — only that it is too difficult to change at this point.
Third, the court also acknowledged that this situation was virtually all of her own creation – from her unilateral decision to move the voting location to her mailing the wrong address to several hundred first-time voters.
While voters may have an added hurdle to clear in order to vote this coming Tuesday, it seems safe to say that the fight to make voting easy and accessible to residents of Dodge City is not over yet.