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Mary MartinMary Martin (Photo by Mary Rupert)
When a snowstorm dumped a foot of snow on Wyandotte County in the spring city primary elections Feb. 26, a lot of people, including me, thought that Wyandotte County reacted well, trying to get people out to advance vote on Monday, the day before the primary election. Hours were extended for advance voting until 7 p.m. Monday.
The snowstorm was not a manmade occurrence; Mother Nature sent the weather and it was difficult for all the candidates, not just for one.
My personal experience with it is that I was able to advance vote in the primary, but some others at my place who often vote couldn’t arrange their schedules to get out and vote on Monday. Then they were snowed in on Tuesday and missed voting. The residential roads here were not plowed yet. But I personally thought the local election officials did the best they could in a difficult situation.
On primary Election Day, the 22 polling places were reduced to five. Some election workers were given rides to the polls. Some of the candidates were giving voters rides to the polls. Some of the main streets were plowed, but many of the side streets were not plowed. There were many power outages around town.
There are people who have a different opinion about the snowstorm primary election, and I believe these residents should be heard because they see it differently.
Mary Martin and Shirley Ikerd viewed what happened as discriminatory against minorities and filed a complaint. They had supported Nathan Barnes in the primary, but that was not why they filed the complaint, they said. “It was the way it was done,” Ikerd said.
Martin’s complaint stated that public notice was not given to all citizens of Wyandotte County for the extended voting hours on Monday, and the change in polling places on Tuesday. Residents were notified through the television media and online, but how many people actually heard about the change, she asks. Some residents had no electrical power on Election Day to access this information.
Martin, who is Ikerd’s daughter, maintained that the roads were nearly impossible to drive on Election Day, especially in underserved communities. The governor had declared an emergency and was telling Kansas residents to stay off the streets that day.
She stated that some citizens went to the wrong polling places, did not have a four-wheel drive, public transportation was not available, having been canceled because of the storm, and as a result, these citizens were denied their right to vote. According to Martin’s letter, she believes this allegedly confusing information to voters and substandard public notice violated the federal Voting Rights Act.
She also stated that instead of holding the election, Wyandotte County could have had a judge issue an order to postpone the election until later, not putting citizens in harm’s way.
Ikerd also said she believed that snow plowing was better at the polling place at 103rd and Leavenworth Road, where there was a large turnout, than it was in the northeast area.
This point of view is certainly worth considering. There have been cases in other American cities where lack of public notice and access to the polls played a role in violations of the Voting Rights Act.
But with the snowstorm throwing the election into chaos, it’s hard to believe that any of what happened next was intentional. Ikerd said she knew that no one is going to order the county to hold another election.
Should another natural disaster one day affect a future election, it would be smart for local officials to consider the possible effects on those who may not have transportation or access to the Internet or electronic media.
And, maybe next election, it would be smart for candidates to take matters into their own hands and invest some of the money they raise in snow plows or snow blades for their pickup trucks, or buy a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
As I once stated earlier, I am looking forward to the day when we can all vote electronically from home. Someone has pointed out that the cost for that is now very expensive, and so it’s not feasible – but we can advance vote by mail. Maybe someday the cost of voting electronically from home will come down. Maybe later in my lifetime, I will see 80 percent of the people casting a vote – not just 80 percent of the eligible voters, but 80 percent of the adult residents.
Certainly the residents who filed the complaint are correct in their general view of wanting more people to be able to vote. Faced with a difficult situation caused by a snowstorm, election officials did well by extending the Monday advance voting hours until 7 p.m. allowing more people to vote. The community would do better to address some ways to increase voter turnout, especially in areas where transportation is a problem, and to make it easier to vote in future elections.
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