Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Disenfranchised Voters in Grandview

I had the privilege of being a poll challenger last Tuesday for the Presidential election  in Grandview. I experienced wonderful moments watching citizens proudly vote. I also watched heartbreaking disappointment when citizens of Jackson County were being disenfranchised by stupid rules.  

Overall, what an experience!  It was so invigorating to be present with masses of people who wanted to exercise their constitutional right to vote. I will always remember the woman, after completing her ballot, ecstatically shouting with raised arms, "I voted!" as she left the polling place. A woman with Down's Syndrome, accompanied by her parents, smiled broadly upon leaving the voting booth. It was energizing to see the voters empowered by their ability to cast their ballots. I was so impressed by the election poll workers, selected from both the Democrat and Republican parties working hard, by calling the election officials and verifying information to insure that everyone who could vote was able to vote. 

What was distressing, however, was how Missouri election laws confounded the election process.  As I learned on Tuesday, for purposes of elections, Kansas City and the rest of Jackson County have two separate election boards, as if they were in two separate counties, like St. Louis and St. Louis County.   Problem is its all one county.  Residents of Jackson County don't know that need to re-register if they move between Kansas City and other parts of Jackson County. The deadline for re-registration was October 10, 2012 and the election was November 6. If a voter moved within Kansas City or within Jackson County, they just change their addresses and vote. The problem is if they move from, say, Grandview to Kansas City, within the same county but between arbitrary boundaries created by the law, with no rhyme nor reason. 

I observed minorities being excluded from voting while stationed  in Grandview, the most racially diverse city in in Jackson City, outside of Kansas City proper. Grandview abuts Kansas City and, since the last presidential election in 2008, many minority voters had moved from one place to the next. Sometimes these moves were a few blocks apart, but to or from Kansas City.  The voters naturally assumed that since they had voted in 2008, and they still lived in the same general neighborhood, they still had a right to vote. If they left eastern Jackson County and moved to Kansas City before, October 10, they lost their right to vote, even though they did not even leave Jackson County.  And how does the election board discover this information?  It's when those voter identification cards are returned to sender, the Kansas City or Jackson County election board. When the cards come back, the voter is labeled inactive and has to explain and sign a form with the explanation. 

Many, many potential voters left angry and unsatisfied because even though they had registered to vote in Jackson County, that was not good enough because of the artificial division of the county into two arbitrary political entities. I observed that most of these disenfranchised voters were African American. They voted last time and no one told them that there were crazy rules they had to follow. At least one out of three voters in Grandview came up inactive. Some could still vote, after explanations of moving within eastern Jackson County or Kansas City, but many, many would-be voters were turned away. Voter turnout in Grandview was high, and a substantial number of American citizens were prevented from casting their votes. 

I suspect that no one will claim the two election boards in Jackson County were created intentionally to limit minority voting, but limiting minority voting is precisely the result.  I suspect not nearly as many Lees Summit or Blue Springs voters move to and from Kansas City compared to Grandview voters, neighbors of Kansas City immediately to the south.  Minorities are drawn to Grandview and it is those citizens most likely to be disenfranchised. 

The easiest solution is to consolidate the Kansas City and Jackson County  election boards. Second easiest, and most fair, is to let voters change their addresses anywhere within the state up to Election Day. They deserve to vote. I don't want to see the crestfallen faces of disenfranchised minorities ever again. 


  1. Good article--this happened to a friend of mine. Can you explain why so much emphasis on race? A disenfranchised voter is a disenfranchised voter, no matter what their national origin or appearance. The constant drawing of the race card is a distraction to finding the solutions to problems like this one.

  2. Good point. I changed the title. Although the problem seemed to affect minorities more than whites, probably because Grandview is do diverse.

  3. But Lynne as an officer of the court you know as well as I know when you move you contact all goverment offices that need to know of a change of address. A move across the street still means you do the right thing and contact the correct people with a change of address.

    I could go on and list many reasons why people don't do changes of address upon moving, but as a rule it's because they don't want to be found very easily. I would think as a lawyer you would understand that. As well I am sure you have faced the same issue when trying to track people down for cases.

  4. An interesting article and thank you for participating in this election.

    I, too, worked the polls, but as an election judge, and have done so for the previous 4 years. As such, if you'll permit, I must point out a few flaws in your observations:

    1) Your title. 'Disenfranchised' is used improperly. The definition of that word includes official efforts to exclude individuals from participating in a duty or event via extraordinary or illegal means. No such official effort was made to 'disenfranchise' anyone.

    2) Your term 'stupid rules.' These rules exist for a reason. The primary reason being an orderly and fair election. It is incumbent upon the citizen to participate on the most basic level, which includes registering to vote and notifying the appropriate board in any change of address. If citizens do not properly register or update their records with the appropriate election board, that board cannot read their mind, or, in good conscience, allow whomever to simply stroll up to any voting booth, in any precinct, and cast a ballot.

    3) The Kansas City Election Board VS the Jackson County Election Board.

    The State govt. established the two entities. Why? Because an election in KCMO will not have the exact same candidates or issues on its ballot as one in Raytown or Grain Valley or Independence. The ballots are different just as the voter rolls are different.

    But there's even further distinctions called precincts, even within the same city or town. You MUST live in the precinct where you vote. This is why it is incumbent upon each citizen to update their records with KCEB or JCEB. Improper registration or an attempt to vote at the wrong poll is not 'disenfranchisement.' It is poor planning upon the citizen who desires to vote on election day.

    I hope this helps.

  5. How irresponsible to write this as these potential voters are being disenfranchised. When you move you should always register to vote or at the very least check with the Board of Election office to determine if it has changed your polling place, more than likely it has.

    You're blaming everyone except for the people that should be blamed; the people who don't use the common sense to check. It's nothing more than that "common sense".

    Weeks of news reports and advertising, mailers were warning people to check where you vote. But yet you blame everyone but the voter........

  6. How sad. Why don't we just throw in some poll taxes and unconstitutional jerrymandering in there. It's easy to be smug. Citizens should have the right to vote. They are just as entitled as anyone else.

  7. Lynne, if you have a person walk into your office asking you to deal with a ticket for driving with no DL because they decided it was to much trouble to get one does that mean then they should be allowed to just drive all over at anytime?

    Signing up to vote is just as important as casting a vote. Sounds to me like you want to go back to the days when votes was bought and paid for and gangsters told you how to vote and how many times.