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Kansas City Mayor Underscores Voter Access After Clerical Error Holds Up His Own Vote

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Missouri is one of the states holding a presidential primary today. And this morning, the mayor of Kansas City, Quinton Lucas, went to the polling place where he has voted for the last 11 years. Before walking in, he made a video encouraging people to go to the polls.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

QUINTON LUCAS: Get out, and get out to vote. Exercise your right to vote. We have a presidential primary today in Missouri.

SHAPIRO: Then he went in and was turned away from his polling place even though he was properly registered to vote. Mayor Quinton Lucas joins us now to talk about what happened.

Welcome.

LUCAS: Good to be with you.

SHAPIRO: OK, so tell us the story. Clearly, you got up early. It was dark out in that video. What happened when you walked into your polling place?

LUCAS: Well, I walked in with my utility bill, which is one of the forms of identification we can use. I handed it to the folks. They said, yes, that's acceptable. And then when they tried to enter my name, they said, you're not in our system, which was perplexing because I've been voting there for a while and - including for myself four different times.

SHAPIRO: Including for yourself as mayor - was there any moment where you said, I am the mayor of this city?

LUCAS: You know, when I walked in - and everybody there was very nice. They all recognized me largely, and so I thought it would actually be a somewhat seamless process. It turned out not to be, but I have the privilege of coming back later in the day. And maybe one of my greatest concerns is that there are a lot of people who are not me and who would not have had that same opportunity.

SHAPIRO: What's your best understanding of what went wrong?

LUCAS: Forty minutes or so after I left the polling place, I got a call from the election board. And they told me they entered my last name, Lucas, as my first name. And therefore, that's why they weren't finding, I guess, a Lucas Quinton in the system. Of course, while I understand human error is a thing, that's really unacceptable, particularly because if I wasn't mayor, they probably would not have called me back 40 minutes later. And I might have been someone who either just didn't vote or had to wait 25, 30 minutes to try to get it squared away, which a lot of people won't do.

SHAPIRO: As you know, there have been national fights over ballot access, especially focusing on African American voters, which includes you. You did not run into a statewide policy here, but do you think there are lessons that are relevant to the national debate over voting access?

LUCAS: There are lots of lessons relevant. We need to make voting easier. We need to come up with policies that don't push people away. I mean, that's why things like early voting, I think, are exceptional. But even more to the point, we need to change the policy narrative away from conspiracies, like, are undocumented people voting? Or are deceased people voting? - and really just get to a focus of - let's let Americans vote.

SHAPIRO: And yet, is this a situation where, no matter how much access you give, somebody is always going to misspell a name and there's always going to be somebody typing in the wrong thing?

LUCAS: I would hope not. The thing that gives me more concern is that, you know, I used a utility bill. A lot of people who use those are those that don't drive, that don't have licenses - maybe elderly, maybe folks that are disproportionately minorities or others.

SHAPIRO: So how does this story end for you? You're going to go back in and face those poll workers a second time.

LUCAS: I am. This time, I found my passport to make sure I could go and have a different form of ID. And I recognize I live in a part of the country where the vast majority of people don't have one. This reminds me and probably should remind everyone how there are normal people who run into issues like this every day and aren't in this position. And so frankly, we need to continue to make a better system so we're not telling people no.

SHAPIRO: Mayor Quinton Lucas, not Lucas Quinton. He is a Democrat and mayor of Kansas City, Mo.

Thank you so much for joining us.

LUCAS: Thank you so much.

SHAPIRO: And one last note - we checked back in with the mayor after recording this conversation. Second time was the charm - he successfully cast his vote this afternoon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.