ROELAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Some officials, candidates and LGBTQ rights advocates are questioning a decision by county election officials to move a suburban Kansas City polling place to the Catholic church one candidate attends ahead of the November municipal election.
Critics also worry that relocating the Ward 2 polling place in Roeland Park to St. Agnes Catholic Parish will confuse voters and decrease turnout, The Kansas City Star reported. The ward's polling place for years has been at Horizon Academy, a private school for students with learning disabilities.
The new polling place is outside of Ward 2. City Council candidate Leonard Tocco is a St. Agnes parishioner and his wife teaches at the parish school. His opponent, Benjamin Dickens, is openly gay and doesn't attend that church.
"I don't have a problem with it being a Catholic church," said state Rep. Brandon Woodard, a Lenexa Democrat and one of the state's first openly gay legislators. "But when you move it to a church that one of the candidates attends, and when the church has a history of being anti-LGBT, the optics themselves are eyebrow-raising."
County elections officials said the relocation was routine, adding that the former site had heating and electrical issues. Churches often serve as polling locations and St. Agnes already serves as a polling place for Ward 4.
Election Office spokeswoman Lori Sand said it has relocated five polling places for the November election. She also said the county is moving away from using schools as polling locations for security reasons.
Horizon Academy is on the campus of Bishop Miege, a Catholic high school, but is operated independently. It was the polling place for the August municipal primary.
Tocco said he's concerned about voter confusion but argued that his St. Agnes membership should not be an issue because he wasn't involved in the decision to move the polling place. Dickens said he's upset mostly because the move was unexpected and voters might show up at the wrong place.
But other critics note that in 2006, the church did not renew its music director's contract after he refused demands to pledge celibacy and proclaim homosexuality a disorder.
During a debate in 2014 before the city enacted a ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, opponents worried publicly that it would prevent St. Agnes from holding its annual fish fry fundraiser. The city included an exemption for religious institutions.