State of Kansas

Kansas Dodge City Electoral System Challenge

Coca v. Dodge City

Lawsuit filed on behalf of three Latine voters in Dodge City, Kansas challenging the at-large system used for electing members to the Dodge City Commission, which is in charge of setting the city’s tax rates, budget and more. The plaintiffs allege that the at-large system “impermissibly denies Latin/a/e citizens in Dodge City an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and to elect candidates of their choice” to the Commission. The plaintiffs argue that despite the city’s growing Latine population, which comprises “65 percent of the total population,” there are “no Latine-preferred elected officials serving on the Commission,” and no Latine candidate of choice has served on the Commission in the last two decades.

The plaintiffs assert that Dodge City’s at-large election system for its five-member Commission violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act as well as the 14th and 15th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution by preventing the city’s Latine community from electing their preferred candidates. The plaintiffs also underscore the city’s history of discrimination against its Latine residents and argue that the at-large system intentionally “discriminates against Plaintiffs on the basis of race and national origin.” The combination of “at-large election system, racially polarized bloc voting, and several other factors…has prevented Latine-preferred candidates from winning any elections for Commissioner,” the complaint notes. The plaintiffs ask the court to block Dodge City officials from administering future City Commission elections under the current at large-system, and to replace it with a single-member district election system that will not dilute Latine votes.

On April 18, 2023, a federal district judge largely denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss the complaint and allowed the plaintiffs’ Section 2 and 14th Amendment claims to move forward. The judge dismissed the 15th Amendment claim, noting that “there is no practical legal difference between Plaintiffs’ Fourteenth Amendment claim” and that they “will suffer no detriment by the Court dismissing it now.” Most notably, the opinion rejected the defendants’ novel legal argument that there is no private right of action under Section 2, which if adopted, would mean that only the U.S. Department of Justice — and not private individuals and organizations — can bring Section 2 lawsuits. The judge flatly rejected this argument, writing: “The simple fact is that the Supreme Court explicitly recognized a private right of action under Section 2.” This is an important ruling, given that the private right of action is currently being targeted by the conservative legal movement in a series of cases out of states including Arkansas and Texas. Litigation in Coca v. City of Dodge remains ongoing.

STATUS: Trial took place the week of Feb. 26, 2024. Parties are awaiting a decision.

Case Documents

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