Voter-suppression shuffle: Officials close only polling site in majority-Latino Kansas town

Dodge City, Kansas, made famous by the westerns, is now the site of especially blatant voter suppression tactics

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published October 24, 2018 6:00AM (EDT)


Dodge City, Kansas, which has a 60 percent Hispanic population, had its only polling site moved outside the city limits to a suburban location with no access to public transportation, the Wichita Eagle reports.

Once famous as a boozy, violent frontier town of the Old West, Dodge City today is a community of 27,000 people roughly 160 miles west of Wichita. In recent years it has relied on a single polling site for its 13,000 voters, compared to an average of 1,200 voters at other sites. The polling site was located in a wealthy, predominantly white neighborhood near a local country club.

This year, local officials have shuttered Dodge City's lone polling place, citing road construction in the area, and moved it to a facility outside the city limits that is more than a mile from the nearest bus stop.

“It is shocking that we only have one polling place, but that is only kind of scratching the surface of the problem,” Ford County Democratic Party chair Johnny Dunlap told the Wichita newspaper. “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.”

State voter data shows that Hispanic voters in Ford County had just a 17 percent turnout in the 2014 elections, compared to a 61 percent rate among white voters. The national Hispanic turnout rate in 2014 was 27 percent.

The city had multiple voting locations until 2002, when the Americans With Disabilities Act created new strict requirements for accessibility at polling sites. That law shuttered a large number of polling sites that don't appear to have been replaced. In nearby Barton County, Kansas, some voters will have to travel 18 miles to their nearest ballot box after the county cut the number of polling places from 23 to 11.

Kansas is far from the only state closing down numerous polling sites. Since the Supreme Court struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, more than 1,000 polling sites have been closed in nine Republican-run states alone.

After the Shelby County v. Holder decision eliminated a section of the Voting Rights Act that required states with a history of racial discrimination to get federal approval before making any changes to their voting processes, the Leadership Conference Education Fund found that 868 polling sites were shuttered in Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Texas, North Carolina and South Carolina. Another study by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that Georgia eliminated another 214 polling sites, or 8 percent of all the polling locations in the state.

That's only counting the ones officials were able to close without a fight. Earlier this year, Georgia's Randolph County proposed closing down seven of its nine polling sites in an overwhelmingly African-American area. The plan was scrapped after resulting protests but the Pew Institute found that “10 counties with large black populations in Georgia closed polling spots after a white elections consultant recommended they do so to save money.”

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 53 of Georgia's 159 counties have fewer polling sites now than in 2012 under the leadership of Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who is also the Republican nominee in this year's gubernatorial election. Thirty-nine of those 53 counties have poverty rates higher than the rest of the state and 30 of them have large African-American populations.

“There’s no doubt that there is a pattern statewide,” John Powers of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law told the newpaper. “Many of the counties in which consolidations are being considered have substantial numbers of minority voters. These precinct consolidations have a disparate impact on Georgia’s most vulnerable citizens.”

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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