Ford County saw its highest voter turnout in a midterm election in more than two decades, but still lags behind the state's voting rate.
Preliminary numbers from the Kansas Secretary of State's Office indicate that 47 percent of Ford County's registered voters made it to the polls. Statewide, 56 percent turned out.
Ford County clerk Deborah Cox received national attention after moving Dodge City's sole voting location outside the city limits. The ACLU sued her, alleging the move disenfranchised voters in a town where more than half the population is Hispanic.
Organizations and activists converged on the southwest Kansas town on Election Day offering free rides to the polls.
Eighteen incidents that required follow-up were reported to the ACLU, who had an observer on site and a hotline available on Nov. 6. The three main issues were poll workers improperly directing voters to cast provisional ballots due to their address; ADA accessibility issues; and lack of translation services for Somali-American voters, said Mark McCormick, spokesman for the ACLU of Kansas.
The county saw about a five percent uptick in the rate of voters compared to the 2014 midterm when 42 percent cast ballots.
Voter turnout in Ford County — and across the state — has trended downward in recent years. In the 1994 midterm, 59 percent of Ford County voted, but in 2006 the rate had dropped considerably to 38 percent. In the 1992 general election, 81 percent of Ford County's voters participated. In 2016, 50 percent voted.
Washburn University political science professor Bob Beatty noted the large minority population in Dodge City and said the Latino population generally votes at a lower rate than other groups.
"Some of those reasons that have been found in studies show that Latinos are often contacted less by political parties during campaigns, and also young Latino voters may be more transient than other groups and permanence of place can also be linked to higher voter turnout," he said. "I think in terms of Dodge City, and overall, if voter turnout is important to a city, county, or state, then just doing an 'average' or 'adequate' job with elections is not enough."
Beatty pointed to efforts in Mongolia where the government dispatches riders on horseback and motorcycle to pick up votes from far-flung locations.
"In Dodge City, the statistics from this year and previous years show that the people in charge have little interest in increasing voter participation," he said.
Cox didn't return a request for comment on voter turnout.
About a month before the election, Cox relocated Dodge City's polling place from the Civic Center to the Expo Center because of planned construction at the Civic Center. A federal judge struck down the ACLU's last-minute request to keep the Civic Center location open on Election Day.
However other parts of the lawsuit are ongoing. McCormick said the organization plans to analyze reports from the primary, continue talks with their clients and assess potential alternative resolutions to the case.
According to the ACLU, Dodge City has one polling site for about 13,000 voters, but three locations for 1,300 people in the rest of Ford County.
Cox said on Election Day that her goal is to have a second voting location by 2020.