County must move polling place again

WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County must find a new polling location for Toms Brook-area voters after the church used in the last election experienced problems.

The Board of Supervisors could consider moving the precinct’s polling place back to the Toms Brook Volunteer Fire Department building. However, the station building needs renovations to comply with federal accessibility requirements for handicapped. Supervisors plan to discuss the matter at a work session Thursday afternoon.

The Electoral Board recently recommended that the county move the polling location back to the Toms Brook Volunteer Fire Department. The county moved the voting precinct from the fire station to the Round Hill Church of the Brethren on Old Valley Pike in 2015. However, according to information provided by the county, the General Registrar’s office received numerous complaints about the lack of parking and the dangers of pulling out onto the highway at the church even though lit signs warned motorists of the polling site activity.

General Registrar Lisa McDonald said Tuesday the church, while a nice facility with plenty of space inside, posed problems for some voters during the Nov. 7 election.

“The parking was difficult,” McDonald recalled. “We tried to route people in one side and out the other but some people tried to go in and out the (same) way. It was kind of counterintuitive the way it was set up.”

Voters drove to the church to participate in the Nov. 7 election, parked along the driveway and damaged the wet lawn, according to information provided to county officials. County maintenance workers intend to make repairs to the church lawn.

The Board of Trustees of the Round Hill Church of the Brethren recently notified the registrar’s office that they voted to no longer allow voting at the facility.

“Toms Brook has always been difficult in that there’s just not really a suitable place that fits every criteria,” McDonald said.

State law requires that the county notify all voters in writing 60 days prior to the next election – a primary scheduled in June – of the change in polling location. McDonald and the Electoral Board met recently with a member of the volunteer fire department to talk about possible renovations necessary to bring the location into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act requirements.

Recommended renovations include the construction of a new set of entry doors on the south side of the department building. The existing doors do not swing in the correct direction to meet the requirements. The fire department has since moved a small building near the north entrance that had obstructed the path for handicapped voters going into the station, McDonald said.

The county must notify approximately 3,000 voters by mail of the location change and also must hold a public hearing on the proposed change. Supervisors could hold the hearing at their Jan. 23 meeting and take action Feb. 27 in order to meeting the mailing notification requirements.

The estimated cost to replace the entry door to the station, mail notices to voters and hold a public hearing ranges from $2,627 to $3,627. The county would cover the cost of any renovations needed, McDonald said.

Relocating the polling location to the fire station could solve another problem. State law requires that the polling sites for local elections lie in town or no more than one mile from the Toms Brook corporate limits. Round Hill Church of the Brethren lies 1.1 mile outside Toms Brook, McDonald said. This situation required that the county move elections back and forth from the church to the fire station, and this meant alerting voters and paying for postage to mail notifications, McDonald said.

Toms Brook serves as one of three voting precincts for District 5 with Cedar Creek and Lebanon Church covering the northern area of the county. Voters in the Toms Brook precinct cast almost 1,400 ballots in the Nov. 7 gubernatorial election.