Elections board approves Belmont polling place

T-L Photo/JENNIFER COMPSTON-STROUGH Belmont Mayor Stan Sobel looks over new concrete that was poured around the firehouse last week. The new driveway and sidewalk make the building handicap accessible, which means it can now serve as the village’s polling place so residents do not have to drive to St. Clairsville to vote.

BELMONT — Village residents can once again vote within Belmont, as the Belmont County Board of Elections approved a new polling place at the Belmont Volunteer Fire Department station on Barrister Street.

In order to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, election officials have moved many voting locations from local municipalities to more central locations in the county. The board of elections first moved Belmont’s polling locations — previously housed at the fire department and at Belmont United Methodist Church — to Union Local High School. In 2010, it was moved again to the James E. Carnes Center west of St. Clairsville — 14 miles away from the village, according to Mayor Stan Sobel.

“You used to have a precinct on every corner,” said elections board Director Bill Shubat. “But we have to follow the law to make sure every polling place is handicap-accessible. Our board does not want to move any polling locations unless they have to. But to meet those requirements, that is what we sometimes have to do.”

Sobel and village Solicitor T.J. Schultz began speaking with elections officials last November to learn what they would need to do in order to get a polling place moved back into the village.

“There are folks who just can’t get over (to the Carnes Center) for whatever reason,” Sobel said at the village’s Nov. 3 council meeting. “Everybody should vote, and everybody should have a local place to go vote.”

The board of elections in February approved the village’s request to move its polling place to the fire station, pending upgrades to the sidewalk and entrance of the building and an ADA inspection to ensure compliance. That work has been completed, and Sobel said the concrete apron and sidewalk around the firehouse cost $18,000.

“On Monday, the ADA statewide coordinator for the secretary of state’s office, Brett Harbage, came down to oversee the pouring of the concrete and took measurements to make sure it was compliant with ADA rules,” Shubat said. “We watched and measured, and he approved the location for voting.”

At the board of elections meeting Tuesday, members officially decided that the fire station would become Belmont’s polling place. Shubat said residents will be notified by mail.

“We were very pleased to be able to do this for the village. Mayor Sobel and Fire Chief (Bob) Mills have been so gracious and helpful. It worked out to everyone’s benefit,” Shubat said. “It shows what people working together can do.”

Sobel said he is “extremely excited” to have the polling place back in the village. He noted residents have been talking to him about the issue for a “very long time.” He said he knows of many elderly residents who “basically just stopped voting” because they could not get to the Carnes Center, and they did not feel comfortable casting an absentee ballot.

Councilman Grant Williams agreed that this was an important accomplishment for the community.

“Having the polling location relocated back to the village will help residents that have a difficult time in getting to the Carnes Center,” Williams said. “I am grateful for the Belmont County Board of Elections, Mayor Sobel and the Belmont Volunteer Fire Department for making this happen. This will make the voting process much more user-friendly for all residents of our village.”

Sobel is confident residents will be pleased to receive this news.

“Somebody just asked me what makes me happiest and proudest of all the things that we have gotten done for the village, and it is this,” Sobel said. “I know people are going to be so happy about this. It was a real problem for many elderly people having to vote at the Carnes Center. It wasn’t just down the street, it was 14 miles away. It was really upsetting to me. I just think it is important for residents to be able to walk down the street and vote in their own town. I hope residents take advantage of this and vote in the next election.”

Residents of Morristown, Bannock, Lloydsville and Uniontown and Goshen, Union and Richland townships all will continue to cast their ballots at the Carnes Center.

“I would like to thank Bill Shubat and the Board of Elections,” Sobel added. “I am really happy that they worked with us so well to get our polling place back.

“This is the most important thing we have accomplished during my administration.”