Monday, October 16, 2006

Is there an effort to repress minority voting in Kansas?

By Diane Silver

I honestly don't know if this is a coincidence, stupidity or a calculated tactic. However, there are indications that some minorities are having a harder time registering to vote in Kansas, and may have a more difficult time getting into a voting booth on Nov. 7.

Kansas' top election official, Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh, is a Republican -- a party that isn't known for getting huge minority support. At the same time, part of the voting process in Kansas is also controlled by local officials.

The problems we're seeing may be simple stupidity or even coincidence, but no matter how they originated, they are still unforgivable. Unfortunately, it appears to be too late to change much before the election. The deadline for registering to vote is Oct. 23, a week away, and the election itself is only a few weeks away.

The Wichita Eagle reported two possible problems this weekend in a fascinating story.

The headline and lead focused on the difficulties of registering Spanish-language citizens to vote. The Spanish-language card produced by Thornburgh's office is so different from the English version, and so confusing, that it's nearly impossible to use, the newspaper said. The Eagle reported:

Adding to the confusion, no one speaks Spanish at the voter-information hotline number printed on the Spanish card....

"Whether it's deliberate or accidental, it has the potential to be disenfranchising to many voters," said Ernestine Krehbiel, co-president of the Wichita-Metro League of Women Voters.

And guess what: Complaints about the card aren't new. The Eagle reported:

State Rep. Delia Garcia, D-Wichita, said she's complained to election officials about them for months.
Thornburgh has said he plans to fix the problems, but even posting a new Spanish-language card on his web site now may be too late to make a difference in this election.

Buried in the story was another problem: Major cuts in the number of polling places in the state's two largest cities of Wichita and Kansas City.

Thornburgh's opponent in the election, state Sen. David Haley of Kansas City, said the problems are "a pattern of actions that dilute minority voting strength."

"Why do we have to always watch this man, after 12 years in office, to make sure he's not out suppressing votes?" Haley said.

Thornburgh has said he thinks polling places have been reduced too much, but those decisions were made at the county level, not by his office.

He said Haley's charges of voter suppression are "completely groundless."

"I've spent my entire career trying to get people to register and vote," he said.
Thornburgh is a moderate Republican. Up to this time, his reputation has always been, well, rather bland, but he has been seen as at least being competent. He doesn't deny any of the problems The Eagle reported.

What is of real concern is why he didn't take any action earlier to fix them. The problem with the voting cards and information line should have been solved at the beginning of this campaign cycle. Even though Thornburgh doesn't control local officials, he could still have worked with them to stop the cuts in polling places.

These problems are simply too convenient for the Republican Party. They come in a year, when there is talk of a Democratic landslide. They come at a time when Kansas' Democratic governor, Kathleen Sebelius, is expected to be re-elected, and Democrat Paul Morrison could well knock the Republican attorney general out of office.

Kansas deserve better than this.


Anonymous said...

good god fact, it looks like just the opposite, we are making our elections combursome by catering to voters who have no knowledge of political workings....just to help get people into office that will create havoc for the country! Some officials have to bend over backwards - even to the extent of losing loyal, dedicated long time voters and election board workers.

Diane Silver said...

Democracy isn't about only letting the smartest or the most well educated people vote. It's about letter all qualified voters have their say. Thank goodness, that happened yesterday.

Thanks for your comment. I do have to admit, though, to being confused about your last sentence. Can you cite an instance where this has happened?

Many thanks!