A Kansas county clerk was dismissive of the national outcry after Dodge City’s lone polling site was moved outside the city limits, according to emails released as part of a congressional investigation into voter suppression allegations.
Ford County Clerk Debbie Cox called the move “a big mess” in an email to retired county clerk Sharon Seibel just weeks before the November 2018 election. Seibel replied that people “just need to get over themselves, they can drive to anything else they want to or they have someone take them, why is this different.” Cox responded, “The ones complaining do not even live here in Ford Co or some in Kansas.’
Cox did not immediately respond to phone and email messages from The Associated Press.
The U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform examined the decision by Cox to move the site as part of a broader probe of voter suppression allegations that also included looking at irregularities in George and Texas.
The committee, then under the leadership of the late Chairman Elijah E. Cummings, launched the investigation into voting irregularities in the three states in March 2019. It said in its report that it gathered information confirming that state and local officials took steps to add barriers to individuals seeking the right to vote.
It said legislation passed by the House to make it easier to register to vote and cast ballots and to restore the Voting Rights Act has not been brought to a vote in the Senate. The committee urged Americans across the country to mobilize now to confirm that they are registered to vote, identify their polling places, and make plans to cast their ballots so their voices are heard in the 2020 election.
The committee noted in a report released before a hearing Wednesday on voter suppression in minority communities that Dodge City has a majority Latino population whose historical support for Democratic candidates was expected to be a factor in that state’s tight race for governor.
Amid the national spotlight, Ford County saw its highest voter turnout in a midterm election in more than two decades but still lagged behind the state’s voting rate.
Cox has said she made the move in anticipation of a construction project at the former polling location that she feared could disrupt access on Election Day.
The investigation revealed that the polling site was moved “without conducting appropriate due diligence, without consulting the local community, and without taking simple steps to reduce the impact of the move on thousands of voters until after a public outcry forced them to take action,” the committee said.
Lauren Bonds, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, told The Topeka Capital-Journal that the findings confirm her group’s motivation for suing the county days before the election. She called the new location “incredibly inconvenient.”
The new location used in the 2018 general election was also more than a mile from the nearest bus stop.
“I think it really goes back to indifference,” Bonds said. “That would be a reasonable concern most people would have if they were in touch with their constituents. It’s a logical outcome that was disregarded, that this would have a disparate impact on the Hispanic community and communities of color in Dodge City.”
During an interview with congressional investigators, Cox acknowledged she did not consult with community groups or residents about their concerns, even though she was aware that residents likely would be upset with moving to the new location, according to the report.
She also acknowledged in the interview that she did not take steps to remedy the impact of the move until after a public outcry and that she did not consider accessibility of the new site by public transportation.
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