When it comes to improving voter participation, Kansas has work to do.

A recent Northern Illinois University study ranked the state ninth most difficult for citizens to cast ballots — a sad shortcoming powered by Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s misguided obsession over nonexistent voter fraud, and the ultraconservative quest to deter voters less likely to support a far-right agenda.

It led Kansas to a Voter ID requirement that disenfranchised the elderly, poor, minorities and others without an acceptable form of ID, and a proof-of-citizenship law that blocked more than 30,000 citizens from completing voter registrations — a change ruled unconstitutional.

The heightened fear of voter suppression due to Kobach-inspired initiatives recently fueled still more skepticism in a diverse western Kansas community.

The move of the lone polling site from the usual, central location in Dodge City to outside the city limits — and beyond the reach of public transportation — was clumsy at best. Ford County Clerk Debbie Cox failed to seek out more accessible locations in a city with a roughly 60 percent Hispanic population, one in which many residents don’t have vehicles and flexible work schedules.

As a result, concerned folks flocked to Dodge City to help educate prospective voters on the change and offer rides to the new polling place (although few reportedly took advantage on Election Day).

Ford County did see voter turnout of nearly 45 percent — more than peer county Finney at about 41 percent. Still, there’s significant room for improvement there and statewide.

Unfortunately, Republican Secretary of State-elect Scott Schwab won his race after endorsing Kobach’s pursuit of laws that hinder voter access. Schwab even said encouraging voter participation isn’t the secretary of state’s responsibility, choosing to ignore the potential good the office could deliver in helping more eligible voters exercise their precious right to cast ballots.

Kobach lost the governor’s race to Democrat Laura Kelly in part because of his run on voting rights. Knowing as much, Schwab should reverse course and work toward change such as same-day registration, a proven way to increase voter turnout.

While awareness of voting-related hurdles no doubt compelled many Kansans to try harder to vote in Dodge City and elsewhere, it shouldn’t be a struggle. The state must make it easier for citizens to vote and be heard.


GateHouse Kansas