A Dodge City high school student who carried a torch amid voting access uproar last fall says election officials undermine democracy and warrant proposed federal guidance.
Alejandro Rangel-Lopez testified Thursday before a U.S. House committee that is considering legislation that favors automatic registration, early voting and public transportation for all polling locations.
The teenager became the namesake for a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union over the decision by Ford County Clerk Debbie Cox to move the only polling location for 13,000 voters in Dodge City to a spot outside town. The nearest bus stop was a mile away.
Litigation was dropped earlier this year after Cox announced three polling sites would serve the community in future elections.
Rangel-Lopez said Cox spent nearly $100,000 in legal fees fighting efforts to make the polling place more accessible. For some, he said, the bus schedule and mile walk led to a 90-minute one-way trip, followed by a 45-minute wait in line. It wasn't until the matter received national scrutiny that the city announced it would offer transportation directly to the polling place.
"We often think that the biggest threat to the American electoral system is a foreign threat," Rangel-Lopez said. "While those concerns are justified, it’s also true that many of the measures undermining voter access are being perpetrated by the very elected officials elected or selected to protect people’s voting rights."
The student council president and National Honor Society officer is the son of immigrants from Mexico. He told members of Congress how for years he had watched his father vote at the Civic Center, which was centrally located in town, and looked forward to casting his vote for the first time.
He said he was able to vote because his employer allowed him the time, but others in the Hispanic community weren't so fortunate. He made attempts to contact Cox, who exacerbated the problem by sending postcards with the wrong address to new voters.
"I could not sit idly by as it happened," Rangel-Lopez said. "For a long time, other community members had voiced concerns to the county clerk about having only one polling site, but their words fell on deaf ears."
Rep. Barry Loudermilk, a Republican from Georgia who sits on the House panel, said he was inspired by the student's story.
"What you exhibited is what this nation is about — the freedom for you to take your grievances and seek action," Loudermilk said. "I applaud you on what you did. I'm really inspired by your story, and I'm very sorry of what happened to you."
After testifying, Rangel-Lopez met with Rep. Sharice Davids, the Kansas Democrat who was elected in November and is a proponent of proposed election reform. Democrats introduced their For the People Act after taking control of the House in January.
"Access to voting is the very backbone of our democracy," Davids said. "As Alejandro Rangel-Lopez showed us in Dodge City, voter suppression is a real problem happening right here in Kansas."