Note: This story appears in the Thursday, March 21 newspaper on Page A1.
Athens County election officials will take a second look at last month’s decision to combine precinct voting locations, but not before the May primary election.
The Athens County Board of Elections have voted to reexamine the issue at its upcoming June meeting, and to seek more community input.
The votes came at a Wednesday meeting attended by about 30 members of the public, and nearly all of those who spoke opposed the new precinct locations.
In February, the board voted 3-1 to move four Nelsonville precincts, as well as Buchtel Village and York Twp. precincts, to C&J Tax Service on Burr Oak Blvd. The board also voted to move Lodi Twp., Waterloo Twp. and New Marshfield precincts to Alexander High School. Board member Kate McGuckin was the sole vote against the changes.
For the past several years, the elections board has been combining precinct locations in response to an Ohio Secretary of State’s directive that encourages doing so for efficiency purposes. Also, County Elections Director Debbie Quivey has said that in some circumstances having multiple precincts at the same location can determine if a provisional ballot can be counted.
County Commissioner Charlie Adkins told the board he opposes moving the precinct voting locations to Alexander High School, citing the long distance some voters will have to travel.
“I think it’s tough on seniors, people with disabilities and just poor people who don’t have the means to drive, to get rides to their polling places,” Adkins said.
Joette Weber of Coolville Ridge said people have told her they don’t want to early vote because they like voting at Shade Community Center in Lodi Twp.
“... I believe that by changing these polling places the result could be that less people are going to want to vote, feel comfortable voting,” Weber said.
Don MacRostie of Fossil Rock Road said he believes the change will make it harder for working people to vote because they have limited time before or after work to cast ballots.
“Whether it’s intended for not, this is voter suppression,” MacRostie said.
Others also referred to it as voter suppression. However, audience member Tom McGuire called it “simply an outrage” to suggest that the elections staff is engaging in voter suppression.
Jane Elekes, who lives in Waterloo Twp., also voiced opposition to moving the precincts to Alexander High School.
“I am very disappointed that it just seems like there was no thought or regard (given) to the residents of Waterloo Twp.,” Elekes said.
Elekes and others said they didn’t know the changes were being considered until after the board voted to make them.
The Waterloo Twp. trustees sent a letter asking the board to reconsider, saying they believe the change in voting locations will discourage voting.
County Elections Director Debbie Quivey said preparations have already been completed for the May primary and it is now too late to make a change in precinct voting locations.
Board member John Haseley, who was not on the board in February, made a motion that the board revisit the issue at its June meeting, and that meetings be held to gather public input. The motion was unanimously approved by the board.
Regarding the change in voting locations for the Nelsonville precincts, Nelsonville Councilwoman Dottie Fromal read a letter unanimously approved by Council opposing the move to the C&J Tax Service building. The letter stated that many Nelsonville residents do not own cars, and that there are no sidewalks on Burr Oak Boulevard. The letter asked the elections board to consider safer locations in Nelsonville.
Fromal, who said Nelsonville officials also were unaware the change was being considered, noted that a friend walked to the C&J building and it took 40 minutes to get there.
Nelsonville is a pedestrian-friendly community and families enjoy walking to the polls and chatting with friends and poll workers, according to resident Lori Crook.
Melissa Wales, chief operating officer at Stuart’s Opera House in Nelsonville, told the board that the opera house would be available for voting for free.
McGuckin said she likes the idea of using Stuart’s Opera House, but noted that it is not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. She said if the city and the opera house board want to consider making Stuart’s ADA compliant for voting, “it can definitely be considered.”
Betty Jo Parsley of Nelsonville, who praised the work Quivey and Deputy Elections Director Penny Brooks have done on past elections, said she supports use of the opera house for voting.
Some audience members voiced criticism that public input was not obtained before the decision to move the precincts was made. Quivey said past practice has been for the staff to make recommendations to the board for consolidating voting locations, with the final decision up to the board.
Board member Ken Ryan said a lot of factors go into deciding on a precinct’s voting location, and that Quivey and Brooks are well versed in those factors. They are the ones who recommended the changes in February.