Board of Elections move to Morse Road depends on county commissioners
Cramped in its current location and with a basement print shop that gets flooded from time to time -- employees call the steps down to it "The Waterfall" -- Franklin County Board of Elections officials would like to have a new headquarters, and director William A. Anthony Jr. thinks he's found the perfect place.
For voters who cast their ballots early in the presidential election, it would be a familiar location: the former Kohl's store at 1700 Morse Road, which served as the county's early-voting center in the weeks leading up to Nov. 6.
"Our current location ... is just too small, and we've known that for several years, probably a little longer," Anthony said last week. "We've been trying to get moved."
However, he said, Franklin County commissioners will make any final decision on moving the elections board from 280 E. Broad St.
Elections officials began exploring a new site a few years ago, Anthony said, and had gotten as far as obtaining bids on leasing several different locations.
"The county process takes a little while," he said.
With the 2012 presidential election approaching, he said officials focused instead this year on switching the early-voting center from Veterans Memorial on West Broad Street. That worked well enough in 2008, but Anthony said there was no guarantee an early-voting site could be in one of the hall's bigger rooms, given advance commitments for musical entertainment there.
"We didn't want to go through that again and wanted to find another place," he said. "We did some extensive research on our end. Initially, we were thinking about just moving and combining the warehouse, our facility and also the print shop, since we do ballot-on-demand printing. The print shop would move with us."
Among sites considered were the former Max and Erma's headquarters on Evanswood Drive and the one-time home of Suburban News Publications on Sinclair Road, as well as the Morse Road location Kohl's abandoned in February 2011.
"The benefit of that site is that 60 percent of the voters live in that area ... so the population is shifting that way," Anthony said. "It may not always shift that way, but right now it is.
"We felt that everybody in Franklin County knows where Morse Road is. It's about a 20-minute ride from just about anywhere in Franklin County."
Northland Community Council president Emmanuel V. Remy said that in meeting with board officials prior to opening the early-voting center, he began encouraging them to move the entire operation into the former department store.
"We're absolutely enthusiastically supportive of them moving into that space," Remy said. "In lieu of having retail, I think it makes a lot of sense to bring more professional workers in to the community, which will eventually bring more retail.
"I've been lobbying actually to make that move happen," he added. "With a large retail space available like that, we want to see it used in a way that is going to benefit the community at large, and I think the board of elections moving in there would be a very positive thing for the intersection and the entire Northland area."
Franklin County Board of Elections members voted last week to ask the county commissioners to look into purchasing or leasing a new building for the entire elections operations, including not only offices but warehouse space for voting machines.
Elections officials have been hoping to relocate from Memorial Hall, at 280 E. Broad St., for a couple of years because of parking and space constraints. The board now occupies about 70,000 square feet in the building, along with other county agencies. That's not enough room to house all of the board's employees and store about 5,000 voting machines the county owns.
The machines are now kept in a county warehouse on Alum Creek Drive.
"This is an opportunity for them to have a one-stop-shop for all of their operations, and ultimately, that's going to save the taxpayers," Remy said.
"Quite frankly, I can't think of many bad things about it," Anthony said of the possible move to the Morse Road site. "There's probably more do's to moving up there than don't's.
"It's up to the commissioners."
Josh Jarman of The Columbus Dispatch contributed to this story.