Wyandotte Election Commissioner denies meeting with local groups on better language access for voters

Published: Sep. 25, 2023 at 6:43 PM CDT
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - Nearly a dozen organizations were shocked after they were stood up by Wyandotte County’s Election Commissioner.

Two of those groups, El Centro and Loud Light said they just wanted to talk about if the election office can provide voting materials in other languages that aren’t English. They’re on a mission to make voting more inclusive and accessible to non-English-speaking voters.

Getting shut down by Commissioner Michael Abbott left the groups frustrated. They said it feels like he doesn’t have the best interest at heart for non-English-speaking voters.

“It’s not like we’re creating something brand new, or it’s this radical idea expanding language access, people have already done this before so it would be very easy for him to do it,” said Ephren Taylor with Loud Light.

“It’s sad and we’re frustrated because Wyandotte county is the county that they showed that has more than 50,000 primary Spanish and other languages that they are not receiving voting in their own language,” said Elizabeth Reynoso with El Centro.

What they didn’t expect was for Commissioner Abbott to deny them the chance to discuss making the voting process easier for this community.

“You should be able to receive information in the language that you are most comfortable with and be able to cast your ballot knowing who’s on the ballot and having more access to that information,” said Justin Gust, VP of Community Engagement.

“If you speak English, can you imagine walking into an election office and everything is a language you can’t understand, why even bother going is what a lot of people are thinking,” said Taylor.

In a letter, Commissioner Abbott blamed a lack of time for a meeting as he prepares for this and next year’s elections.

“Organizing started back in March, earlier this year, so it’s not like this is a last-minute thing before the election, we’ve been trying to have a conversation with him, and it’s just using the election as an excuse to not meet,” said Gust.

Loud Light said Abbott also mentioned because it’s not mandated by federal law, he doesn’t have to do it.

“You’re an elected official, your job is to meet with the people and care about what the community says. You have so many organizations here that are working together to try to help you do this initiative and you won’t even bother to meet with us in person,” said Taylor.

Abbot also stated that he was not authorized to change the languages used on ballots in Wyandotte County, but El Centro said it’s already being done in other counties.

“Different counties in the state, [like in Topeka, Haskell and Wilson County] are offering [others] access to language during voting sessions,” said Reynoso.

El Centro and Loud Light said this just proves the challenges some communities face during election time.

“We are obviously here to help the community, not harm the community. We are here to protect our vote and our right to vote so it’s not that we are asking for something that is impossible to do or is illegal, we’re trying to do this to better our community,” said Gust.

Despite the setback, the organizations said they are focused on their mission to make the electoral process more inclusive and accessible for everyone in Wyandotte County and they hope that Commissioner Abbott reconsiders meeting with them.