Limited early voting locations create a challenge for transit-bound Hamilton Co. voters

Posted at 7:31 PM, Oct 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-22 10:27:30-04

HAMILTON COUNTY, Ohio — Downtown resident and stay-at-home dad Andy Shenk relies on Cincinnati Metro for nearly every trip he makes.

"My wife and I, we don't own a car, so we use the bus to go everywhere," he said.

That includes making the trip up to Norwood to cast his vote early.

"It's about a 30-minute ride on the bus, but with walking to the bus from both directions, it's about a 45-minute trip."

In the previous presidential election in 2016, the bus ride up to Norwood wouldn't have been necessary. At the time, the county's board of elections office was located Dowtown, at Ninth and Broadway. In 2017, the board closed that office and relocated it Norwood.

While Hamilton County will host more than 300 polling locations on Nov. 3, only one early voting and ballot drop-off location is open until then, at 4700 Smith Road. Hamilton County Board of Elections Director Sherry Poland said they moved the office to locate it more centrally within the county and to provide more -- and free -- parking for early voters.

"We've received very positive feedback from voters coming to vote in Norwood, and the numbers show that," Poland told WCPO. "Ever since we moved the Board of Elections to Norwood, the number of voters who have chose(n) to vote early in person have at least doubled in every similar election cycle. This has been a good move for voters in Hamilton County."

The new location on Smith Road is within walking distance of Metro bus stops serving at least three bus lines. Poland said transit access is one of many factors her board considers when establishing polling locations for Election Day as well as for elections headquarters.

"Transit is taken into consideration," she said. "We also try, if we can, to make (polling locations) within walking distance, but that's not always practical."

Shenk worries less about the distance from the Metro stop to the elections office doors and more about access to those three bus lines when voters are heading out to the polls.

"If we put the Board of Elections in a place like Uptown, for instance, that has numerous highway interchanges but also has really good bus service from all over the county, it would make it much easier for residents to vote," he said.

For anyone who doesn't live on or nearby Metro's #4 or #51 bus line, a trip to the Board of Elections office could require riding a different Metro bus downtown to Government Square and then boarding another bus back out to Norwood. Depending on one's neighborhood, that could require upwards of 3 hours round trip.

Shenk also said he hopes that future any early voting locations take pedestrian safety further into account.

"A lot of the roads are very wide. Cars are driving fast. Not all parts of the intersections have crosswalks," he said. "I would strongly encourage the Board of Elections to focus on pedestrian infrastructure around the site and to be working with Cincinnati Metro to ensure that bus service serves that area properly."