- Johnny Dunlapchair of the Ford County Democratic Party in Kansas.
In Kansas, local officials are under fire for moving a majority-Latino city’s single polling site outside of city limits, more than a mile from the nearest bus stop. Dodge City, Kansas, is 60 percent Hispanic, but the Associated Press reports that Hispanic turnout was just 17 percent in Ford County, where Dodge City is located, compared to 61 percent turnout for white voters in 2014. The ACLU reports that the city’s lone polling site services more than 13,000 voters, compared to an average of 1,200 voters per polling site at other locations. We are joined by Johnny Dunlap, chair of the Ford County Democratic Party.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, in Kansas, local officials are under fire for moving a majority-Latino city’s single polling site outside of the city limits, more than a mile from the nearest bus stop. Dodge City, Kansas, is nearly 60 percent Hispanic, but the Associated Press reports that Hispanic turnout in the county where Dodge City is located was just 17 percent, compared to 61 percent turnout for white voters, in 2014.
AMY GOODMAN: The ACLU reports Dodge’s lone polling site services more than 13,000 voters, compared to an average of 1,200 voters per polling site in other locations.
We’re joined now by Johnny Dunlap with the Kansas Democratic Party. He’a joining us from Dodge City.
Welcome to Democracy Now! Tell us what happened.
JOHNNY DUNLAP: Well, so this is really one more thing in a larger, longer problem. Way back in 2002, the county clerk went down to just one polling place for Dodge City, Kansas, and it’s been that way since. And that one polling place was in the more affluent, white part of town. Dodge City is pretty clearly divided between like a white northern part of town and a Hispanic southern part of town. So, this move of the polling location is really just taking an already bad situation and making it worse, because it’s moved the polling location outside of town so it’s convenient for no one. And when you combine that with a historic turnout of 17 percent for the Hispanic population, a 61 percent turnout for the white population, and then you look at our elected officials, every seat we have, except for the county commission, is at large, so our city commission, our school board, our community college board of trustees—every one one of those offices are currently held by a white person, even though the town is 60 percent Hispanic. So, this move is just—like I said, it’s just one more thing in an ongoing problem.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Johnny Dunlap, I’d like to ask you, because most people are not aware that a place, an iconic place like Dodge City, famed in the westward movement of Americans, is—has such a high Latino population, but it’s not the only place in the Midwest. Throughout Iowa and Kansas and Nebraska, there’s been a huge surge in the last 20 years or so of Latino populations, mostly as a result of the importation of Mexican labor for the meatpacking industry. Could you talk about that?
JOHNNY DUNLAP: Sure. So, in Dodge City specifically, that influx began in the late '70s, early 1980s. There are now two large beef packing plants in Dodge City. It's one of the cornerstones of our economy around here. And those beef packing plants have historically recruited folks from points south to come here and live and work. And so, what we have now is second-, third-generation Americans who have only ever voted in one polling place and don’t know that it could be better.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what’s the reason that the city clerk gives for the lone polling place? Forget about the fact that it’s already overburdened, given the voting population, but then moving it outside of the city limits to a place where you can’t even get there by public transportation?
JOHNNY DUNLAP: Well, so, it’s the county clerk. The county clerk, I met with her in May, late May, to ask her to increase the number of polling places. And this is not the first time I’ve met with our county clerk—and her predecessor, I met with several times—in an effort to convince them to have more polling places. And the excuses that she gives for only having one polling place, frankly, don’t hold water. I mean, one of them is she said, “Well, it would increase costs to have more polling places, and it’s just not in my budget.” Well, the thing is, she writes her own budget. So, if something is not in her budget, it’s because she didn’t put it in her budget. And then she complains about the number of voting machines that she has. And the thing is, she has enough machines to cover the polling place with a 13,000-voter burden. You could take some of those machines and split them out to other sites, and you would still have enough voting machines. So—
AMY GOODMAN: Does it have anything to do with who the secretary of state is—Kris Kobach? And now he’s running for governor, the man who led the now-defunct, disgraced so-called voter integrity commission for Trump. And even in the Trump Administration, they had to get rid of it. Now Kris Kobach running for governor against Democrat Laura Kelly.
JOHNNY DUNLAP: Well, so, yeah. The thing is, the secretary of state has to—or, has the power to stop something like this and approves it. So, for the last eight years, Kris Kobach has signed off on one polling place in Dodge City, Kansas. And really, this is part of a larger narrative for him. I mean, he passed—or, we passed in Kansas bills that he championed and wrote, that have since been declared unconstitutional because they disenfranchise voters.
And on the ground in Dodge City, that’s made things difficult. Like we’ve attempted to have voting drives and things—I mean, excuse me, voter registration drives in Dodge City. And when Kris Kobach’s—before Kris Kobach’s voter ID law, which required citizens to prove their citizenship, so it reversed the burden of proof from the government to the citizen, and so folks would register to vote, and then they’d have to go to the county clerk and present their birth certificate or some sort of proof of citizenship. And so, what happened in these voter registration drives is that, you know, folks would start filling out the form, and then we would say, “OK, well, now, you know, you need to take this to the county clerk along with your birth certificate, and then you’ll be registered to vote.” And they would be in shock and angry. And some of them even like tore up their voter registration card and said, “No, no. Forget about it. This is too much.”
So, it’s just—this thing in Dodge City this year is, again, I think, part of a larger problem, where the Republican Party in Kansas has taken a lot of steps to make voting more difficult, to put obstacles in the way of people registering, of people getting to the polls. It’s a bigger problem.
AMY GOODMAN: Johnny Dunlap, we want to thank you for being with us, chair of the Ford County, Kansas, Democratic Party, as we move on to our next segment.