JACKSON — Several township trustees, and concerned citizens, gathered at a Jackson County Commissioners meeting recently to question the consolidation of polling locations during a pandemic.

The Jackson County Commissioners explained that they don’t have any authority of the Jackson County Board of Elections. The board of elections has its own board members, which make decisions locally. The board is made up of Chairperson Rodney Smith, and board members Catherine Smalley, Kida Newell, and Judy Brunton.

However, that being said, the commissioners hosted the trustees, and citizens, so they could say their peace regarding the changes and consolidation of the polling locations. There were numerous concerns ranging from distance, to the virus, to voter turnout, and more.

The Jackson County Board of Elections met in May, and it was brought to the attention of the board by Director Joanne Evans and Deputy Director Cheryl Browning that because of numerous security and emergency requirements, finances, meeting ADA compliance mandates and safety for poll workers and registered voters, that it might be well to consider consolidating some of the out lying polling locations.

In an earlier board meeting (March 17, 2020), the board had already voted to move Jackson Township and Washington Township into Coalton (James A. Rhodes Center) and Liberty Township 1 and 2 into Scioto (Scioto Fire Department).

During the meeting in May, members agreed that it made sense to also move Bloomfield Township and Hamilton Township into Oak Hill (Madison Jefferson Fire Bing Hall), and Franklin 1 and 2 into Jackson (YMCA) at the same time.

The board made a motion to consolidate from 13 polling locations down to five polling locations. There will continue to be 30 precincts, but only five polling locations. Notices regarding these changes have already been mailed to inform those registered voters of these consolidations.

The board of elections pointed out that the changes of these polling locations will cut down on the number of poll workers needed, will save money by reducing the number of poll workers, plus trained technical support personnel will be on site at the larger locations for immediate support to the pollworkers as needed, rather than having them travel from one precinct to another.

The board noted that it will mean fewer miles to travel to set up and take down the equipment before and after the election, offer polling locations that better meet the security and disabilities requirements and cut costs on COVID-19 protocol before and after the election. Also, the changes, according to the board, will provide more safety for the poll workers and the registered voters in case of an emergency.

If registered voters choose not to vote in person on Election Day (November 3, 2020) they also have the option to vote early in office beginning October 6, 2020 through November 2, 2020 (and this includes the last two Saturdays and Sundays before the election).

Voters may also request an absentee/mail in ballot (they are the same thing in Ohio) between now and Oct. 27 (seven days before the election). Starting around Labor Day (the week of September 7) the Secretary of State Frank LaRose will begin mailing every registered voter an absentee application.

All the voter needs to do is fill it out, sign it, date it and either mail it back to our office at 275 Portsmouth St., Suite 2, Jackson, Ohio 45640 or they may bring it to the office and put it in the secured black box in front of the office. This box is checked at least in the morning when they open and every evening before they close by bi-partisan pairs of staff. This box is available 24/7 and is monitored. Once we receive the completed application we will verify everything on it for correctness (including the signature) and the ballots will begin to be mailed out October 6, 2020. The ballots may also be returned in the same manner as the application.

On another note the deadline to register to vote or change your address or name is Monday, Oct. 5, 2020. The Board of Election Office will remain open until 9 p.m.

The township trustees, and concerned citizens also approached the Jackson County Health Department regarding the issues.

“The issue of how many polling stations are operated in Jackson County has recently been brought to my attention from a number of township trustees who have requested my opinion in writing on the matter,” said Jackson County Health Commissioner Kevin Aston. “I am therefore providing you and them with this written statement that summarizes my professional opinion on the matter as it pertains to COVID-19 safety.”

Aston stated, “Guidance from health authorities like the CDC should be followed to create polling locations that are as safe as possible from potential exposure to COVID-19. The CDC has produced a guidance document to be used in the development of polling locations. On the subject of the number of locations, this document offers the following guidance: maintain or increase the total number of polling places available to the public on Election Day to improve the ability to social distance, and unless there is no other option, do not increase the number of potential registered voters assigned to each polling place.”

Aston said that he agrees with the CDC’s recommendations and put them forth as his own general recommendations.

“I would also like to highlight the personal commitment to creating safe polling places that BOE employees Cheryl Browning, Joanne Evans, and the rest of their team have made,” stated Aston. “They have sought out my advice and resources on COVID-19 safety in the past and I have personally observed them operating their polling place at the BOE office in a safe manner that reduces the risk of COVID-19 transmission as much as possible.”

The Jackson County Board of Election always meet the first Wednesday of each month at 10 a.m. The next meeting will be Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020, at 10 a.m. The location hasn’t been decided yet. Those with concerns can call the board of elections at 740-286-2905.

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