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In recent years, the staff of the Hardin County Board of Elections were packed into their office and often supervising activity in two other courthouse locations.
But the department completed its move from the first floor to its new basement offices Thursday. Director Sandra Bookmyer said the spacious new location will benefit her staff, but also better serve the voters of the county.
Space, security and accessibility had been a concerns at the former location, Bookmyer continued. The problems grew worse when the state allowed voters to cast their ballots prior to Election Day. The room for voting machines in the office filled with records and desks was limited and made the congested area difficult to maneuver on a normal day of operations.
The state told the local board it needed to have an area available for early voters who were in wheelchairs. The handicap accessibility for the courthouse begins with the basement entrance on the south side of the building.
Larger chairs, said Bookmyer, couldn’t fit in the door of the courthouse elevator, making a visit to the board of elections office impossible. For a while, a telephone was placed on a desk in the basement hallway. Voters unable to go to the second floor to vote could call the office and a staff member brought ballots to them.
That system was changed when the county commissioners allowed the board to set up voting machines in the basement conference room. Two poll workers were required to be in the room, one from each political party. The cost of paying the workers for five weeks had an impact on the board budget, said Bookmyer.
“We had to hire two people to sit there for five weeks if they had a voter or not,” said Bookmyer.
Training of poll workers was done in Vets Hall, she continued, which tied up two primary meeting locations in the courthouse. The voting machines could not be left unattended, said the director, so when meetings were set in Vets Hall during the training period, the staff had to dismantle and move the electronic units and set them up the following day for training.
“This (move) eliminates tying up two other rooms in the courthouse,” said Bookmyer. “Now it is all in one office.”
The new office is large enough to meet the needs of the board and the voting public, said Bookmyer and it is handicap-accessible. There is room for four voting machines in the lobby, with capabilities of expanding to six. Beyond the lobby, an inside room is being used to store records and train poll workers.
That area can be secured, allowing easier working conditions for the staff, said Bookmyer. Security requirements from the state requires access to the voting machines and records be allowed only when a Democrat and Republican worker is present.
“I used to have to sit on the bench outside our office in the morning to wait for a Republican to come to work,” said Bookmyer.
The new secured rooms are accessible only when two keys open the locks. There is a Republican key and a Democrat key, said Bookmyer.
The workers also have internet service at their desks now, said the director. In the old location, it was only available in the meeting room at the back of the office and workers had to copy information on disks to work between their desks and the main computer.
It was difficult to move from the old office, however, said Bookmyer. Despite its shortcomings, the staff had adjusted and grown to love the location.
“But this is more convenient for the staff and the public,” said Bookmyer.
By DAN ROBINSON
Times staff writer