The Montgomery County Board of Elections is considering moving from the downtown county building to vacant space at the rear of the Job Center at 1111 S. Edwin C. Moses Blvd.
On Tuesday the county board voted to begin searching for a possible new location to replace offices the board has outgrown in the basement of the county building at 451 W. Third St. The move could be complete sometime early next year.
Costs have not been tallied and issues with parking and roadway access are not resolved. Board member Kay Wick said she is concerned about possible safety issues at the Job Center and in the surrounding neighborhood.
Deputy Director Steve Harsman said everything is preliminary but county commissioners have said they are willing to cover costs of the move to the 60,000 square foot vacant space in the Job Center building, which is leased by the county. The space is particularly enticing because it would easily house the entire board operation and had loading docks for the board to use for loading and unloading equipment and materials for elections.
Harsman said the current office is “probably in violation of storage code” because voting equipment and materials are stacked so high.
“In my humble opinion this is the most viable option to get the space we need” in time for the 2016 Presidential Election, Harsman said.
He said the need to move is driven largely by the popularity of early voting and the state’s failure to approve reforms that would allow the board to operate multiple in-person early voting offices during election season. The county building and parking facilities are overwhelmed by voters who come to cast ballots before Election Day. He said 32,000 people voted early in 2008, a number that grew to 33,000 by 2012.
Making matters worse are plans to possibly replace the county’s aging and expensive escalators with stair steps to the board’s basement. With a single elevator serving the basement, Harsman said closing the escalators will also make controlling the crowds’ ingress and egress more difficult.
The board asked Harsman and Director Jan Kelly to look at other space options, including downtown office space or vacant schools. Harsman said they owe it to voters to remain in a central location.
The Jobs Center space currently has parking and access issues because it is located behind the building and accessible by a one-way driveway/parking lot. The large adjacent parking lot is currently used by Jobs Center employees. The project would require the county to gain access or control of city owned land that is adjacent to the Jobs Center to provide parking for Jobs Center employees and improved roadway access to the back of the building, said Harsman.
A redesign of the Jobs Center by the county is already in the works and officials are looking at incorporating board of elections offices into that design, said Kevin Lavoie, spokesman for the county jobs and family services department.
In other action the board certified candidates for county, state and federal races and all city and school tax issues for the May ballot.
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