The Athens County Board of County Commissioners held a public forum on Tuesday morning to hear from Athens residents about the possibility of moving the Board of Elections office to Campbell Street.
The move was proposed because of the lack of space in the current office located on South Court Street. Another reason the building might move is because there is new equipment for voting that needs to be kept in a temperature-controlled room.
“The county commissioners have known for two years that (Advocacy, Training, Careers, and Training) would be closing its services on Campbell Street, because you own the building,” Roxanne Groff, an Athens resident said. “There was a federal mandate for those services to be closed.”
A lack of access for students could be an issue, and OU faculty and local business owners could be impacted as well said Ben Lachman, the owner of a startup company in Athens. If the building were to be used by an incoming industrial company, it will create jobs that are necessary to the local economy, he said.
“The Elliot Street Industrial Park has had some recent positive building development,” Lachman said, “The active building is well situated to be a part of that expansion, and unfortunately, the Board of Elections is not an industrial manufacturing activity.”
The most prominent complaint from residents was that the move would be a form of voter suppression because it would not be as accessible to students. Voter suppression is not the intention, it is the effect, which would make this move unconstitutional, said Heather Cantino, a previous precinct judge.
“The ATCO building near the river is not easily accessible to most students’ residences or classes,” Cantino said. “It’s a full mile from Baker Center.”
Cantino disagreed with concerns about the safety of dropping off passengers from Court Street, which had been raised by the county commissioners.
“One might ask why they couldn’t sit in the back on the left (of the car) if they’re getting dropped off or be let off in the accessible parking lot and entrance behind the board of elections,” Cantino said.
Kate McGuckin, Athens County Board of Elections member, asked Charlie Adkins, an Athens county commissioner, if he had seen residents struggling to access the building. Adkins said that he has, and has also seen traffic stop when people are getting out to enter the Board of Elections building.
Zach Reizes, a senior studying war and peace studies, has worked to help students and residents register to vote during the last two elections.
“I am very, very scared about what happens if the Board of Elections is not in a place where we can easily tap a student on the shoulder and say, ‘I’ll walk you up there,‘” Reizes said.
Athens resident Beth Clodfelter said people may recognize Pumpkin, the cat who lives at the Board of Elections, more than they recognize the Board of Elections office.