The Athens County Board of Elections is undergoing major changes after the recent decision to remain at its location on Court Street.
A decision was made in early 2019 to look into a potential relocation of the office to the ATCO building on Stimson Avenue. This was prompted by the need to accommodate changes to voting equipment mandated by the Ohio Secretary of State's office.
The proposed relocation was met with concerns from voters and activists about accessing the county's voting headquarters. Most of their points were centered around the effect on student voter turnout and possible voter suppression across the county.
“We’re staying here and making the best of here and making some changes,” Debbie Quivey, the director of the Athens County Board of Elections said. “I still think that the ATCO building would have been a good move for us because it would have solved every issue that we have. It didn’t work out so we compromised with what we’ve got here.”
Quivey said a lot of changes have occurred or are soon to be implemented to the uptown location to make it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards and make the office space easier to access and navigate for both workers and voters.
One of these changes was finding a space in the basement Courthouse Annex building to store the new voting machines.
This has increased storage space because the new equipment takes up more space than the old equipment, Lenny Eliason, an Athens County commissioner said.
The storage space was one of the original reasons an office relocation was being considered. The old systems were able to be taken apart and were easier to store but the new ones are not.
Quivey said they have about 70 of the large voting machines for the entire county, 10 of which are being used as back-ups. Overall they cost $4,670 dollars apiece and were purchased with state funds, which brings the total to around $326,900.
“They’ll probably outlive me. I’ll hopefully be gone by the time they change it again,” Quivey said. “These type of scanners… you really just can’t wear them out.”
Another change coming to the Board of Elections is added amenities, such as a new counter and two new parking spaces, to make the building more compliant with ADA standards. The new voting machines are also more accessible than the previous models.
Lydia Ramlo, the president of the Ohio University Student Senate said changes like these are something that the student governing body wanted to see upgraded at the Board of Elections. When the office’s relocation was still being considered Student Senate was one of the main voices trying to advocate for the Board of Elections to remain in it’s uptown location.
“First years are coming to campus, they’re 18 and it's their first time voting,” Ramlo said. “That’s where you go to vote or register to vote and having it in that location increases student turnout.”
A big concern that still remains regarding the location of the Board of Elections is how accessible the office is to people driving in from outside of the Uptown area. The office is easily accessible on foot but not for visitors looking for parking during the office’s 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. hours.
“I still think it would've been a little better of an outcome for them. There is better parking for people from outside the city,” Eliason said. “People that don’t live in this city and have to drive from outside to go to the board of elections are going to have to park in the parking garage, pay a meter and walk over.”
Eliason said the Board of Elections office could still be moved in the future but for now it is up to the city to improve the lack of parking options.
As the upcoming election in November approaches and the 2020 presidential primaries and general election looms on the horizon, the upgrades to the office could help streamline some of the larger crowds that could show up to vote.
“We know we’re going to need everyone next year. It will depend on an election to election basis but next year is going to be a real doozy,” Quivey said. “It's going to be the biggest ones we’ve seen. Here in Athens we will see a big student turnout.”
Ramlo said Student Senate will try and be one of the driving forces in increasing student voter turnout by encouraging voter registration in both this year’s local elections and next year prior to the deadlines.
“Voting, no matter what type of election, is super important. We’re excited to help get Bobcats to register to vote in Athens,” Ramlo said.