BELMONT — The Allegany County Board of Elections will have a new home in time for the fall election season.
The county Board of Legislators approved the $105,000 purchase of 8-12 Willetts Ave. on Monday. The properties include the Parish Hall, Murray House and the Episcopal Church along with the adjoining parking lot. The church closed earlier this decade, along with the Episcopal churches in Bolivar and Friendship. Services are now held in Angelica.
The first tenant of the property will be the board of elections, Democratic Elections Commissioner Mike McCormick said, to be housed in the parish hall.
“We’re hoping in the middle of September — that’s the target date,” he said, adding some work needs to be completed before the move is made. “The building sits on a level lot and has good parking, but the doors have to be made ADA-compliant.”
Some concrete sidewalk work will also likely be necessary near the doors. This would be in addition to some interior renovation work to make offices for the commissioners, storage areas and space for polling.
“It’s big enough to have an early voting site,” he said, with the first round set before the November election. “We’re pretty excited about moving down there because the early voting changes things for us.”
One new requirement signed into law will require early voting hours for 10 days prior to the election. Under proposed state Board of Elections rules, counties with fewer than 99,999 registered voters must have at least one early voting site with two optical scan machines and six voting privacy booths for the county. As of Feb. 1, the county had roughly 26,000 registered voters.
The current office, at 6 Schuyler St., is too small to meet the requirements for the state’s revised voting laws, approved in January. The office is also not handicapped accessible and relies on minimal on-street parking — disqualifying the structure to host voting.
For the 2019 election cycle, only the general election will see early voting, but primaries will be included in 2020.
“We’re going to have 10 days of early voting, but it’s conceivable that next year we have 30,” McCormick said, thanking the county for being proactive in acquiring the new site.
The early voting will be open to all registered voters in the county, with inspectors signaling to workers at each of the 39 election districts on Election Day all who voted in advance.
“Someone might have voted early, and sometimes people forget,” he said. “I’m not picking on anyone, but it does happen.”
However, making sure multiple votes don’t happen, “we have 39 election districts — we have to have 39 poll books sitting there” during early voting, McCormick noted, and the poll book will be marked for every early vote before the poll books head out on Election Day.
Once electronic poll books come along — which were mandated in January, but no vendors have been cleared to supply them as of yet — that should help speed things along.
With an e-poll book, which McCormick said will be similar to a regular tablet device, those who vote will sign off like they do with the paper books, and that will be digitally forwarded to the e-poll book in the voter’s home election district.
How many people will vote early? Well, it’s hard to tell, McCormick said, but numbers are expected to be low at least to start.
“What the other states found is the early voting numbers rise as more people find out about it,” he said, with more voters every year.
ALONG WITH the parish hall is the former church that will also be repurposed.
“It’s going to be a multipurpose meeting room,” McCormick said, adding that the elections board may use it to train poll workers. “In the past, we’ve used the Crossroads meeting room, the jail meeting room.
“There might be EMT classes there, or community events,” he added.