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Wichita, Kansas News, Weather, Sports – Polling site confusion in Dodge City draws international attenti

DODGE CITY, Kan. (KAKE) –

Thursday, the Secretary of State’s Office admitted that new voters in Ford County have been confused about where to cast their ballots, thanks to notifications handed out to all newly registered voters.  Those standard notifications, says Brian Caskey in the Secretary of State’s election office, automatically listed the regular polling site instead of the temporary one in use this November.

The county elections office moved the site after pending construction made the regular site at the Dodge City Civic Center unusable.  Instead, voters will have to drive out to the Western State Bank Expo Center outside of town.

In the case of the confused newly registered voters, Bryan Caskey with the Secretary of State’s office says Debbie Cox, the Ford County Elections Clerk, is working to contact all new voters to make sure they know exactly where to go.

It’s the twists and turns of this story that have brought journalists from around the world into Dodge City.  Chris McGreal is a reporter with The Guardian, a London based newspaper.  He says there were several reasons his readers are interested in what’s going on here.

“(It) touched on all kinds of themes that are riding through Kansas politics with the mid-terms, but also national politics: access to voting, increasing restrictions on voting rights in some states,” he said. 

Of course, there’s also the town’s name. 

“It’s an internationally-known name,” McGreal said.  “It conjures up romantic visions of America.”

McGreal spent his Thursday wandering Dodge City, learning about its demographics, voting patterns, and how people are reacting to the polling location move.

“I hated it,” said Kenneth Plush, a Ford County voter.  “I hated it very much.  It’s a big inconvenience, just finding the time to do it.”

Plush is one of hundreds of Ford County voters who decided to vote early this year.  The Elections Clerk says they’re seeing about 200 voters a day at the downtown early voting sites.  That’s on track to set a record mid-term turnout, possibly even as many early voters as the all time record set in the 2016 presidential election.

That comes as no surprise to Plush, who was dropping off his vote Thursday afternoon.

“I didn’t want to go way out in the country, way out there,” Plush said.  “My wife does all the driving.  Ir was an inconvenience so we decided to go with the mail-in ballot.”

“As with any story, when you get on the ground it’s always more nuanced than perhaps it seems on the outside,” McGreal said.  “There are complex things at work here.”

Among city and county leaders there’s concern many of the stories are missing some of those details, like the fact Dodge City has had only one polling location for decades.  It’s one of just four in the entire county.  They say voters are used to the crowds running an expected 13,000 plus voters through one polling site will create.

“I think there’s a lot of important information being left out, just like the opportunity for free bus service, that this is also a temporary change,” said Melissa McCoy, Assistant City Manager in Dodge City.

She says their main concern right now is getting voters to the polls, now and on Election Day.  As part of that, the city will be offering free door to door bus service.  All residents have to do is call the city, and a bus will be dispatched to their home, no questions asked. The number to do that is 620-371-3879.

The Kansas Democratic Party and Lyft are also offering free rides to voters on Election Day.

“We want everybody to get out and vote,” McCoy said.

British reporter Chris McGreal interviews the Assistant City Manager of Dodge CIty, Melissa McCoy Thursday afternoon.British reporter Chris McGreal interviews the Assistant City Manager of Dodge CIty, Melissa McCoy Thursday afternoon.

Ford County is averaging 200 early voters a day, on track for a mid-term election record.Ford County is averaging 200 early voters a day, on track for a mid-term election record.

The Civic Center was unavailable as a polling site this November because of construction plans in the area.The Civic Center was unavailable as a polling site this November because of construction plans in the area.

Elections workers expect more than 13,000 voters to pass through the Western State Bank Expo Center, the temporary polling location outside of town, on November 6th.Elections workers expect more than 13,000 voters to pass through the Western State Bank Expo Center, the temporary polling location outside of town, on November 6th.

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