Attorneys staked out battle lines Monday in an animated conference call over polling access in Dodge City.
The American Civil Liberties Union pleaded with U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree to schedule a hearing as soon as possible in the organization's lawsuit over a decision by Ford County Clerk Deborah Cox to move the only polling place for Dodge City outside of city limits.
The ACLU believes the late-September announcement of a new location will lead to confusion for 13,000 registered voters in a majority Hispanic community. The county notified newly registered voters they should go to the long-standing polling location within Dodge City, then sent notice that they should vote at the new location. Cox said a construction project necessitated the change.
In a lawsuit filed Friday on behalf of the League of United Latin American Citizens and high school student Alejandro Rangel-Lopez, the ACLU asked the court to order the old location to remain open.
If the ACLU thinks there is confusion now, said Bradley Schlozman, a Wichita attorney hired to represent Ford County, another change in the days before election day would lead to "mass confusion."
Schlozman said Cox would have to hire and train additional poll workers, including some who are bilingual. He also said state law doesn't allow multiple locations for a single precinct, which means voters would have to be assigned to one of the two locations. Voting rolls would be need to be updated and voting machines reprogrammed, he said.
Not only would such late changes be "humanly impossible," Schlozman said, but the ACLU waited a month before challenging the decision.
That prompted a fiery response from Mark Johnson, a Kansas City-based attorney who teaches at the University of Kansas and also worked with the ACLU in challenging Secretary of State Kris Kobach and his proof of citizenship law at a trial in March.
Johnson said he appreciated Scholozman's "flowery arguments," but likened Cox to a murder defendant who killed her parents, then throws herself on the mercy of the court by saying, "I'm an orphan."
"If there's a problem," he said, "it's of her creation."
Before filing a lawsuit, the ACLU publicly asked Cox to reconsider her decision. Johnson said the response from Cox was to forward their email saying "LOL" — shorthand for "laugh out loud" — to Kobach's office.
If Ford County prevails, Johnson said, the ACLU will wait until after the election before "vigorously" challenging the outcome. Schlozman said he intends to seek a stay from a higher court judge if he loses the case.
Crabtree set a 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline for filing responses to matters raised in the case. The judge said he would review the arguments and make plans known on Wednesday for a possible hearing.