Leaders discuss Toms Brook voting site

WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County can keep the Toms Brook-area voting precinct intact but must move the polling place, election officials say.

The Electoral Board recommended Thursday that the Board of Supervisors move the voting location from the Toms Brook Volunteer Fire Department to the Round Hill Church of the Brethren, 28138 Old Valley Pike.

Supervisors can hold a public hearing in June and then take action in August. That should give General Registrar Lisa McDonald enough time to send notices to Toms Brook-area voters alerting them to the new location, County Administrator Mary Beth Price said.

But moving the polling place to the church creates another problem: Finding a place for Toms Brook voters to cast ballots in town elections. That task falls to Toms Brook leaders.

Access Independence, a regional, nonprofit agency that advocates for handicapped people, also inspects polling places or possible voting sites to make sure they meet the requirements in the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Toms Brook United Methodist Church, considered an alternative site that the county used before the fire station, does not meet ADA requirements, per Access Independence’s inspection. Electoral Board Chairwoman W. Joyce Gary said the wheelchair ramp is too steep.

Even the Church of the Brethren needs alterations to comply with the ADA. The Electoral Board must replace handles on two doors with levers, bevel the thresholds of two doors and mark a parking spot as handicapped accessible. The expense would be minimal. The Electoral Board determined that the church would provide enough space to handle voter traffic.

“We were looking to the future, you know, thinking that whatever additional polling place that we would add to the precinct would provide for growth,” Gary said. “But it’s sufficient to handle, we believe, any type of election.”

Voters casting ballots in the Nov. 3 election would do so at the Round Hill church.

But Toms Brook holds its mayoral and town council elections in May. Toms Brook can’t use the Round Hill church because it is slightly more than a mile outside town limits. State code requires polling places for town elections be located no further than one mile outside the corporate limits.

Gary noted that it remains the town’s responsibility to find a polling location for its local elections. Price said she interpreted state code to allow Toms Brook to hold its local elections at Round Hill if the town moves the elections to November. Gary and McDonald disagreed with that interpretation.

District 5 Supervisor Marsha Shruntz, whose district includes the Toms Brook area, pointed out that eliminating the Methodist Church and the fire hall leaves the town with few options. Mayor Phil Fauber offered one.

“Do it over at my house, I guess,” Fauber said jokingly.

Gary acknowledged that the board understands the problem.

Fauber said the town is considering using the Toms Brook School Apartments, run by People Inc., as the local election site. The town would need permission from the nonprofit agency to use the former gymnasium. Local elections usually draw 30-40 voters at most.

Fauber said he didn’t see a problem holding state and federal elections at Round Hill.

The county moved the polling place to the fire department building with the understanding that improvements would be made to meet ADA requirements. Those changes were never made and Access Independence determined the station does not qualify as a polling place. In addition to failing to meet the ADA rules, the Electoral Board found that voters had parked in the Toms Brook United Methodist Church across the street and walked across the highway to cast ballots. Problems also have arisen over the sharing of the space between the firefighters and poll workers.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com