When it comes to access to voting, Kansas has a lot of room for improvement.
Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the ultraconservative now running for governor, used the bogus claim of rampant voter fraud to encourage policies designed to deter would-be voters: namely a Voter ID requirement that disenfranchised the elderly, poor and others without a current, acceptable form of ID, and a proof-of-citizenship law that blocked about 30,000 citizens from completing voter registrations — a change ruled unconstitutional.
Kobach was held in contempt of court for failing to comply with an order to fully register Kansans who had registered at Department of Motor Vehicles offices but didn’t have proof of citizenship.
A situation in southwest Kansas recently raised more concern over voter access.
Ford County has for years offered just one polling location in Dodge City, which isn’t enough. It’s set up for 13,000 voters in a state where average polling locations serve 1,200 voters. Peer city Garden City, for example, has six polling sites.
Then, with construction underway at the usual Dodge City polling place, Ford County Clerk Debbie Cox made it harder for local voters by establishing the lone polling site outside Dodge City and beyond the reach of public transportation — a disservice to a majority-minority population less likely to have vehicles and flexible work schedules.
Cox should have pursued more convenient voting locations, such as local schools. She also showed disinterest in accommodating voters by ridiculing an American Civil Liberties Union request for support of a voter issue hotline, which she forwarded to Kobach’s office with an “LOL” (laugh out loud) remark.
Kobach, meanwhile, stands to gain from barriers to voting. Lower turnout tends to benefit far-right candidates.
And the state’s chief elections official who shaped Kansas’ unfair election policies also will oversee an election in which he’s a candidate — a sure way to erode public confidence in the process.
Kansas needs election reform. On voter access, such changes as Election Day registration and automatic voter registration would help in a state ranked in a Northern Illinois University study as ninth most difficult for citizens to cast ballots.
The goal should be engagement of all eligible voters. In Kansas, unfortunately, more has been done to discourage than encourage participation at the polls.