By Timothy Cox
Mercer County officials still are scrambling to come up with adequate storage space for 168 high-tech voting machines that are to arrive by the end of the month.
County commissioners and other elected officials are talking about a number of scenarios that would allow the new equipment to be stored at the courthouse. Because of the space required and the security specifications and other storage requirements that must be met, the issue has proved tricky for county officials.
Mercer County is not alone. With all counties having already updated their voting equipment or about to make the switch, the problem is a common one. Commissioner Bob Nuding talked with commissioners in Shelby, Darke, Preble and other counties where officials also are struggling to come up with space on relatively short notice.
Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell approved the Diebold-made machines in June and county officials received necessary storage dimensions only a few weeks ago, Commissioner Jerry Laffin said.
Commissioners had planned to install some new shelving in the room where the current voting machines are stored. But since then, they have learned they also need to provide adequate working space in close proximity to the voting machines and must also store reams of paper for the computer printouts that will verify voters' actions. Commissioners took the issue to the county's courthouse committee this week. The group of county officials who work in the courthouse are in charge of reviewing proposed modifications to the courthouse's appearance.
Members of that group talked this week about using the auditorium in the courthouse's south wing as a storage area for the voting machines. Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey Ingraham indicated he would prefer to see the voting equipment limited to the largely unused stage area in the auditorium. The area could be partitioned off from the rest of the large, open room.
County officials also talked about possibly shuffling some offices around inside the courthouse and about the possibility of using the old county administration building on South Main Street as an elections office and storage area for the equipment.
Whatever county officials decide, the elections office likely would move to stay close to the voting machines. If the elections office moved to the auditorium or former administration building, building improvements would be necessary to make both handicapped accessible. The courthouse is mostly wheelchair accessible, but the auditorium is not.
Using the auditorium to solve the problems seems a natural choice, Commissioner Jim Zehringer said.
"It's the largest room in the courthouse but it's used the least," Zehringer said.
County officials have been told the new machines will arrive before Aug. 1 but have not been given a firm delivery date. The machines are to be stored in a secure, climate-controlled room with no windows. Each machine is a self-contained, computerized voting booth.
The $453,000 in voting machines were paid for through federal money made available through the Help America Vote Act, which was passed by Congress following the 2000 presidential election in Florida.