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ACLU files lawsuit against Kansas city that moved polling station outside city limits

The move targets the city's majority Hispanic population, the group argues.

A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas claims Dodge City officials made it difficult for the city's majority Hispanic population to cast a ballot in the upcoming midterm elections by moving the city's only polling station outside city limits. (Photo credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images)
A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas claims Dodge City officials made it difficult for the city's majority Hispanic population to cast a ballot in the upcoming midterm elections by moving the city's only polling station outside city limits. (Photo credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

A lawsuit alleges that election officials in Dodge City, Kansas moved the lone polling station outside city limits to make it harder for Hispanics to vote, in a naked attempt at voter suppression ahead of the upcoming midterm elections.

The suit was filed Friday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas on behalf of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and would-be voter Alejandro Rangel-Lopez.

It argued that moving the voting location from the city’s Civic Center to the Expo Center outside of town hindered residents’ ability to get to the polls, and posed particularly hurdles for Latino voters.

Many Latino residents, the suit said, have limited access to transportation and rigid work schedules that make it difficult to get to the remote polling station on Election Day.

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The ACLU is seeking a temporary restraining order that would require Ford County to reopen the original polling station, which had a more convenient location for most Latino voters.

“We think this is outrageous,” ACLU of Kansas Executive Director Micah Kubic said in a press release Friday.

“We understand that there are people who believe voting is a privilege but we don’t. It is a right that must be fiercely protected. We can and must do better.”

The suit specifically claims infringement of voters’ 14th Amendment rights and of the Voting Rights Act, since relocating the polling station disproportionately affects the city’s Hispanic population.

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As The Washington Post reported this week, Dodge City, located in southwest Kansas, provides only one voting location for all of its 27,000 citizens, and for years, that polling station had been located in the “mostly white” part of town “near a country club.”

While the earlier location was far from convenient, moving the polling station created even more of a hurdle for Hispanic residents, as well as for many low-income, disabled, and elderly voters, the ACLU said.

“Despite claims to the contrary, there was no legitimate reason to move the site in the first place,” the group said.

Turnout among Hispanic voters in the majority-minority city was already lower than the national average, as ThinkProgress previously wrote.

Officials had said they moved the polling location outside of city limits for “safety” reasons, while Ford County Clerk Debbie Cox had said planned construction by the local school district would reduce the number of parking spots at the previous polling station from 519 to 450.

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“If it was going to be storming and icy, they would have to walk through that and through the construction,” Cox wrote in an email to the school district’s business and operations director on September 11.

The ACLU noted, however, that the city was still planning to host other events at Civic Center in the lead-up to Election Day.

Kansas is facing a high profile and tightly contested gubernatorial race this November, with Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach facing off against Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly.

At the moment, a Public Policy poll shows the two in a dead-heat, with Kobach ahead of Kelly by a single percentage point — well within the margin of error.

Kobach, notorious for his anti-immigrant track record, has attempted in the past to limit access to voting, claiming hundreds of people in the state had voted illegally and trying to purge voter rolls of tens of thousands of people.

Most of his claims were deemed baseless, and though he later secured convictions for six people, all of whom were older citizens and simply confused about their voting rights.

According to Slate, Kobach has said there is “nothing unusual or discriminatory” about Dodge City’s decision to move its polling location outside of town.