Cranley, Reece offer plan to keep Board of Elections in downtown Cincinnati

Proposal offers unused building free of charge

CINCINNATI -- Mayor John Cranley and State Rep. Alicia Reece offered two alternate proposals Thursday morning to keep some or all of the Hamilton County Board of Elections’ services in downtown Cincinnati.

The board is considering a move to Mount Airy, but some Democrats think the relocation would hamper access to early voting for poor residents who rely on public transit.

Cranley and Reece proposed leasing a city-owned building at the corner of Seventh and Race streets, which once was part of the Shillito’s Department Store.

The pair would offer the space free of charge to the Board of Elections pending City Council approval, which is likely.

There is about 280,000 square feet of unused space in the building. The Board of Elections has said it needs between 80,000 and 100,000 square feet to consolidate its operations.

Part of the building's appeal is that it has loading docks in the rear, where ballots could be loaded and unloaded during elections.

Three of the four Board of Elections members – Tim Burke, Chip Gerhardt and Alex Triantafilou – recently toured the building and have expressed some interest.

If board members still decide it prefers relocating offices to the former Mercy Franciscan Hospital in Mount Airy, however, Cranley and Reece have a Plan B.

The pair wants the Board of Elections to lease, also free of charge, an unused downtown storefront location that’s owned by the city. The space, which is about 8,000 sq. feet, would be used for a satellite office, where people could register to vote and cast early voting ballots.

The controversy over the Board of Elections’ possible move began when Catholic Health Partners offered to give Hamilton County the former hospital site free of charge so it no longer has to pay for upkeep.

County officials want the Kipling Avenue facility primarily for a new, expanded regional crime lab. 

It would cost $56 million to build a new crime lab, but only about $20 to $25 million to renovate part of the hospital for that purpose. 

But county commissioners have said because the crime lab would only occupy 100,000 square feet of a nearly 500,000-square-foot facility, other offices also should be relocated there.

It remained unclear under the Cranley-Reece proposal if the Shillito's space would also work for a crime lab. 

Catholic Health Partners want an answer by Feb. 1, and the Board of Elections is scheduled to vote Monday.

Reece and other Democrats are concerned because the Mount Airy location is served by only one bus line, unlike the downtown site, which is near the hub for all bus lines countywide.

The Board of Elections currently rents several floors at an office building on Broadway downtown for its primary operations.

Additionally, it rents a warehouse in Fairfax to store voting machines, and uses a conference room at a hotel in Clifton for poll worker training.

About 24,000 people voted in-person at the board’s offices during the presidential election in 2012, which shows people prefer the option and convenience, she added.

For more stories by Kevin Osborne, visit www.wcpo.com/osborne . Follow him on Twitter at @kevinwcpo

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