DODGE CITY - The city of Dodge City and Dodge City USD 443 are sending - separately - the same message:
Moving the Nov. 6 voting site for Dodge City-area residents from the Civic Center in the city’s center to the Western State Bank Expo Center about a mile south of the city was not their decision.
Kerri Baker, public information officer for Dodge City USD 443 which owns the Civic Center, notified Ford County Clerk and Election Officer Debbie Cox regarding pending construction.
“We did not ask for it,” Baker said of the substitute site chosen for the Civic Center. That decision was up to the County Clerk, she said.
The city issued a letter from Dodge City Mayor E. Kent Smoll,written in English and Spanish, saying Smoll, City Commissioners, and city staff have received many inquiries regarding the election site's new location.
“Elections are an issue that falls within the jurisdiction of the Ford County Clerk and/or the Secretary of State. The City of Dodge City has no authority over election issues,” Smoll wrote.
Criticism of the sole voting site chosen for Election Day that is outside the city has drawn national attention and criticism from the ACLU of Kansas and the Kansas Democratic Party. "There are 22 places to buy lottery tickets in Dodge City, but there is one polling location," Alan LaPolice, Democratic candidate for Congress in the 1st Congressional District, said in a statement Monday. "The status quo seemingly wants to make it easier for you to gamble on a 1-in-303-million chance than to vote in elections that directly impact you every day for generations," he said.
Baker said USD 443 Superintendent Fred Dierksen said he would be willing to supply school buses for voter transportation, but the city already offered free rides on its Public Transportation. Smoll wrote that those wishing to use the free service should call (620) 371-3879 to schedule a ride with Dodge City Public Transportation.
Cox has started walk-in early voting at her office, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays. The office will remain open until 7 p.m. on Oct. 30 and on Nov. 1. It also will be open for voting from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov.3.
Cox said the Western State Bank Expo Center was chosen because it was large enough and complied with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“It’s in a close proximity,” USD 443 Baker said.
The county plans to shift the voting site back to the Civic Center when construction is finished and parking again is available there.
Seward County has had a single Election Day location for Liberal-area voters for over 20 years, and the event center is on the western edge of Liberal, near the airport. That’s the voting location for 9,904 Seward County voters for this election. A smaller site is set up for Kismet-area voters.
Asked how voters in Liberal get transportation to the Liberal location, Seward County Clerk and Election Officer Stacia Long said, “It's not my job to see how people get there, to be honest with you.”
“I want to make sure I run a fair and accurate election for everyone, regardless,” Long said.
Long and Cox said the ADA led their counties to centralize voting locations. Issues with holding voting in schools and churches were other factors, Long said. Centralized voting makes it easier to get poll workers because county staff will be on site if there’s a problem, Long also noted.