Early voting begins today

Beverly resident Barbara Adkins doesn’t know if she’ll vote early or on Election Day this fall, but she likes to have the choice.

“As opposed to missing a chance to vote, yes, it’s a lovely option,” she said.

Adkins, 62, and her husband voted early for the first time last year because they were going to be out of town on Election Day.

“We were very pleased with it. We didn’t have a very long wait,” she said.

Early voting begins today during regular business hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Washington County Board of Elections office. Township trustees, city and village council seats and other offices, boards of education and local levies are on the ballots.

The no-fault, absentee voting option has been available since 2006, when more than 700 people took advantage in the primary. Although the numbers vary based on the offices and issues on the ballot, the trend has generally been an upward one, with 1,950 people casting early ballots in the 2012 primary and more than 10,000 doing so before the general election.

County residents who want to vote early in this election can do so by mail or at the board of elections office, which moved out of the courthouse this summer and into the lower level of the Davis Avenue building housing the county Children Services offices.

Election board director Tara Hupp said staff members have been reminding people of the move every chance they get, whether it’s through local media or on the phone when folks call in with questions about the upcoming election. They’ve also been talking with voters as they come into the office about whether they had trouble finding the space at 204 Davis Ave., Suite B, just down the hill from Marietta High School.

“Most people say no; some say yes,” Hupp said.

As the move was being made, some people suggested the change from a central downtown location could discourage voters from registering or casting their ballots. Both the City of Marietta and the county have erected new signage to direct people to the office. And the Community Action Bus Line will make stops at the board office as part of its “A” route at about 15 minutes after the hour, through Election Day. The stop won’t be made during the 7 and 11 a.m. hours or the 2 p.m. hour due to the high school schedule and lunch for the driver. Those who vote will then be able to catch the bus again the next hour.

Adkins said she hasn’t been to the new office, but since it’s located off Muskingum Drive, the route she takes into town, she doesn’t think it will be a problem.

“Actually for us, it would be easier,” she said.

Reasons for the move included a need for more space, privacy concerns with people casting early ballots in the busy and sometimes noisy courthouse halls and accessibility issues, with the handicap parking space in front of the entrance not meeting Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

The accessibility of the new office was assessed last week by David Long, adviser for People First, a group that works to help individuals with disabilities become their own advocates in the realm of public policy. Long said the parking situation is improved and the interior of the office is quite accessible. He also noted the presence of rooms “where people can go in and vote and take their time voting.”

The only concerns he noted were that the curb cut to provide wheelchair access isn’t wide enough to meet ADA requirements and that the exterior door to the office needs to be replaced with a lighter one.

“It would be hard for people to … open, especially people in wheelchairs,” Long said.

Hupp said the office is waiting for the written report Long plans to submit, which will then be taken before the board. One adjustment had already been made to make the door easier to open.

“Our door was pulling 11 pounds of pressure,” Hupp said, noting it’s been reduced to about five pounds.