Removing roadblocks for Latino voters is slow work in Kansas

By: - August 22, 2020 8:08 am

Alejandro Rangel-Lopez, a co-plaintiff in the ACLU lawsuit against the Ford County clerk Debbie Cox, voting for the first time in 2018. (Submitted to Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Alejandro Rangel-Lopez didn’t think twice about taking legal action when Ford County Clerk Debbie Cox moved the only polling location outside of Dodge City limits in 2018.

“Voting is one of the most important rights we have,” Rangel-Lopez said. “I learned from my father at an early age. He became a citizen in 2004 and has been voting ever since. I had to make sure my community could continue to exercise that right.”

Rangel-Lopez — now a sophomore at the University of Kansas and second vice president of Kansas Young Democrats — was a joint plaintiff along with the League of United Latin American Citizens when the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas sued Cox over voting access.

The lawsuit was dropped after Cox agreed to reopen the original polling location and committed to a second location, as well.

Of the 231,000 Latinos in Kansas that are old enough to vote, only 30.8% registered to vote and under 25% voted in 2018. Voting rights advocates like Rangel-Lopez are working to increase turnout in Latino communities.

INFORMACION DE VOTACIONES Y ELECCIONES

Fechas importantes

13 de octubre de 2020 — La fecha límite de registro para las Elecciones Generales

3 de noviembre de 2020 — El Día de las Elecciones Generales es el martes

Las urnas en Kansas están abiertas de 7:00 a.m. a 7:00 p.m.

Preguntas Frecuentes

¿Puedo votar en Kansas?

Puede votar en Kansas si cumple con todos los requisitos:

  • Es ciudadano de los Estados Unidos
  • Es residente del estado de Kansas
  • Tiene al menos 18 años de edad

¿Cómo me registro para votar?

Hay Tres formas de registrarse:

  1. Uso del formulario federal de registro votantes — en línea o por correo
  2. En la oficina de vehículos motorizados, mientras solicita una nueva licencia de conducir o renueva una licencia de conducir
  3. Uso del formulario estatal de registro de votante, en línea o en persona

Para registrarse no es necesario presentar un documento de “prueba de ciudadanía”

Para mas informacion acerca de sus derechos de voto, visita aclukansas.org.

The effort, already complicated by bureaucratic and cultural roadblocks like voter ID laws and minimal bilingual voter information, now is compounded by pandemic fears.

Since leaving for college, Rangel-Lopez said, he has become more exposed to the ways these issues are perpetuated beyond Ford County.

“We need similar action across the state as we had here,” Rangel-Lopez said. “My dad would spend at least an hour, sometimes two or more at the single polling location. It’s a lot better now and that encourages better turnout.”

Earlier this year, the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform released a report, as part of larger investigation into voter suppression in several states, finding Ford County at fault for adding barriers that prevented those seeking to vote from doing so.

Cox had blown off voter suppression criticism in 2018, saying the ACLU had “their panties in a bunch” over the polling site.

The report concluded “the polling site was moved without conducting appropriate due diligence, without consulting with the local community, and without taking simple steps to reduce the impact of the move on thousands of voters until after a public outcry forced them to take action.”

The committee’s report also noted that Ford County is predominantly Latino — 56%, according to the most recent U.S. Census estimates — and that their history of voting in favor of Democrats was likely to influence what was a close race for governor.

In April, a federal appeals court upheld the ruling that a Kansas law requiring proof of citizenship when registering to vote was unconstitutional. The law, pushed by former Secretary of State Kris Kobach, was struck down in 2018.

Following the appeals court ruling, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Secretary of State Scott Schwab said they would fight to reinstate Kobach’s signature law. They filed the petition with the U.S. Supreme Court in early August, though the case is unlikely to be heard before the 2020 election.

The decision to pursue the appeal shows not enough progress has been made, said Ellen Glover, field director for the ACLU of Kansas.

“We see these small successes that give hope for our Latino voters, but then we often see decisions made that subtly undermine that progress,” Glover said.

She pointed to Senate Bill 351, which died in committee this past session. Thousands of provisional ballots cast by eligible voters are thrown away each election cycle, Glover said, and the bill would have ensured future provisional votes counted.

Amid the pandemic, Glover is concerned many Latino Kansans won’t vote.

“In a normal election year, we already see difficulty accessing information to register properly among Latino communities,” Glover said. “This year, access to that information is so much more hit or miss, not to mention the language barrier means many don’t have access to it in their native language.”

Davis Hammet, president of Loud Light, stressed access to voting information as a key step in encouraging trust in the election process. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Of the 105 counties in Kansas, only five require election information to be posted in Spanish and English — Finney, Ford, Grant, Haskell and Steward.

The lack of access often leads to disillusionment or disinterest in voting, said Davis Hammet, president of Loud Light, an organization that promotes civic engagement across the state. He said the most worrying byproduct is distrust in the voting process.

“Youth Latino voters return mail-in ballots at a much lower rate, they show less trust in where their information is going and that the vote will be counted,” Hammet said. “Most would opt to use a dropbox, which most counties have. The problem is again many don’t have access to that information.”

Valeria Espadas Ibarra, community mobilizer for El Centro, which provides services to Latino families in Wyandotte County, sees this transpiring when she canvasses her communities.

In some cases, the lack of accessibility can cause significant stress around voting for many Latino families she speaks with.

“People are scared to get registered,” Ibarra said, “and a huge step would be making sure all the information is standardized in English and Spanish.”

Rangel-Lopez sees reasons to be optimistic for the future. Candidates for office like Angie Gonazlez, the Latina Democratic candidate for Ford County clerk who will face Cox in the November general election, give him reason for optimism.

“The greater our representation in those important positions, the more we will become involved, the more the voting system and the rules surrounding it will reflect more Kansas Latino communities,” Rangel-Lopez said. “It’s slow progress sometimes, but it’s critical progress.”

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Noah Taborda
Noah Taborda

Noah Taborda started his journalism career in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, covering local government and producing an episode of the podcast Show Me The State while earning his bachelor’s degree in radio broadcasting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Noah then made a short move to Kansas City, Missouri, to work at KCUR as an intern on the talk show Central Standard and then in the newsroom, reporting on daily news and feature stories.

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