Some Roeland Park residents are raising concerns after learning that the Johnson County Election Office had shifted a longstanding polling location ahead of November’s election.
Residents of precinct 2-02 in Roeland Park had been voting at the Bishop Miege North Campus, which is home to Horizons Academy, for more than 10 years, and voted there during this summer’s primaries. But as certificates of voter registration cards began hitting mailboxes in recent days, residents noticed that the polling site location had been shifted to St. Agnes Catholic Church.
The distance between the two sites isn’t particularly significant — they’re only about half a mile apart — but a couple of factors about the move had some residents balking at the change. For one, both of the candidates running for the Ward 2 seat on the Roeland Park city council, Benjamin Dickens and Leonard Tocco, had already distributed literature encouraging people to show up at the Horizons site to vote on Nov. 5. The election office didn’t give the candidates notice that it was planning to make the change before they started their campaigning.
A handful of residents have also expressed concerns about St. Agnes as a polling place because one of the Ward 2 candidates has ties to the church. Tocco is a parishioner at St. Agnes, and his wife is a teacher at the school there.
Tocco’s campaign issued the following statement on the matter, saying the decision was entirely that of the election office:
“The decision to locate an additional precinct to St. Agnes was made by the Election Office—entirely independent of my campaign. While I fully understand the community’s concern regarding the optics of this move, I’m disappointed by the implication that there could be some kind of malfeasance where there is none. I will support any future precinct changes if the Election Office deems it necessary. Right now, I’m focused on continuing to run a positive campaign, connecting with voters and finding new ways to improve the lives of my friends, family, and neighbors here in Roeland Park.”
Johnson County Election Office officials said the committee of staff members tasked with setting polling locations across the county met on August 21 to finalize sites for the general election cycle. According to county spokeswoman Lori Sand, the election office had received complaints about heating and cooling issues at the Horizons Academy site as well as a lack of sufficient electrical outlets to operate the voting equipment. Those concerns led the committee to determine St. Agnes would be a better site for voters.
“We routinely receive feedback from voters and election workers on the conditions of polling places after elections,” Sand said. “For Bishop Miege North Campus we received comments about the heating and cooling as well as the lack of enough electrical outlets to meet our needs. Again, we appreciate the donation of space, however, we were able to provide another polling place for this Ward that better met the needs of our office and the voters.”
Sand noted that it’s not uncommon for polling locations to change. Five additional precincts had their polling sites shift ahead of the fall cycle, she said.
Still, some in the city have been lobbying for the office to consider an alternate location for the precinct in question, noting that St. Agnes doesn’t even sit in Ward 2. Jen Hill, a member of the Roeland Park city council, has been in contact with the election office about the issue and suggested alternates to St. Agnes as a site to election officials. (She notes that she made those contacts as a citizen, not a representative of the city). She said election officials told her there was nothing that could be done at this point because the registration cards have already been mailed.
For his part, Dickens said that while he wasn’t thrilled with the idea of the election being held on the “home turf” of his opponent, his primary concern by far was the thought of pressed-for-time voters showing up at the wrong site on election day.
“A lot of working class folks in Roeland Park, they may only have a ten or fifteen minute window at the start or the end of their day to try to get in and cast their ballots,” he said. “If they show up at Horizons and are told they need to go to a different location, that might be enough that they don’t end up voting that day.”
Of the decision to change sites, Tocco said he was “comfortable trusting the Election Office to do what’s in the best interest of voters, and I will support any future precinct changes if the Election Office deems it necessary.”
Sand said the county will be sending out information about advance voting options to all voters in the coming weeks as well, and that those postcards will have another notice of voters’ polling sites.
“They will receive a neon green postcard next week informing them of the advance voting locations and hours, with another reminder of their new voting location,” Sand said.