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County and City Discuss New Elections Building

News Editor

A joint work session on Dec. 28 between the Dade County Board of Commissioners and the City of Trenton Board of Commissioners resulted in overall agreement to build a new elections building.

The commissioners agreed that the gravel lot by the old train depot is the best location. This lot (located between Railway Lane and Montague Street, just behind the Trenton Civic Center) is owned by the city, but the building would be paid for by the county.

Starting the meeting, Alex Case (City of Trenton mayor) explained that the elections office needs a better place to store the voting and ballot machines. The county currently has over 80 voting machines and 10 ballot casting machines. The new building will also serve as the Trenton precinct. “Right now, the county does all of our city elections too,” said Case.

Photo by Carey Anderson – Currently, the voting equipment is set up in the county meeting room for L&A Testing before and after every election.

Case noted that this project has been in discussion for several years, with initial thoughts of using the old train depot. “We couldn’t fit the equipment in the depot, so we began looking at property.”

Several commissioners felt that having elections in the same buildings as the offices of those up for reelection is not ideal.

Melissa Bradford (District 4 commissioner) was in favor of all equipment having a dedicated, central location.

Ted Rumley (county executive) said, “We need to build a building big enough to do that. That way, the machines will never have to be moved except when we have elections out in the precincts.”

Monda Wooten (Trenton street commissioner) said, “Each year, there are more and more questions about the integrity of the elections.”

Bradford wanted to build for the future so the county and city aren’t facing further spatial constraints in several years. She asked which government entity would own it. Wooten said, “It’s not like we’re in competition, whether it’s the city or the county.” Case agreed.

Other properties discussed were the historic courthouse and the Trenton Civic Center. Opposition to the courthouse included concerns about congestion around the town square, access to the building, and not enough room for the machines. Lamar Lowery (District 1 commissioner) reported that the courthouse’s elevators are only large enough to hold one machine at a time, making transportation difficult.

Opposition to the Trenton Civic Center included concerns about the amount of time that it would be used for early voting and plugging in the machines. Case explained, “Every quarter, the machines have to be plugged up [to be charged].” While the center is rented almost entirely on weekends, most commissioners did not want to use it for elections.

According to Wooten, “We can’t commit the Civic Center for that.” Rumley added, “It would be written in stone. No city commission could come in and change it. Once you commit, it’s forever.”

Photo by Lydia Berglar – The proposed area for the elections building is next to the old train depot.

Case explained that federal guidelines require a secure building with video surveillance and a certain amount of room between each voting machine. “We want to build for 120-150 machines. As population grows, voting machines grow.”

Robert Goff (District 3 commissioner) said that voting equipment “used to be about the size of a suitcase. Now, they’re the size of one of these tables.”

Phillip Hartline (District 2 commissioner) was the most strongly opposed. He said, “Why don’t we build a building that’s big enough to store the equipment, keep them charged, and test them, and still use the Civic Center as the voting precinct. You’ve still gotta move all the machines to the other six precincts for election days.”

He continued, “Move early voting to the Civic Center; it’s just three weeks. If not, you’re building this 2,000 square foot area to be used six weeks out of the year. To me, you’re wasting that money. You don’t need this much space to keep them charged and plugged up.”

Don Townsend (county clerk) responded, “The last three election cycles, meaning six years, we’ve had primaries, primary runoffs, elections, election runoffs, a special federal election run off, and one year we had a special election for the congressman. We had six elections in one year, and six times three weeks plus the day of elections is a lot of time. Every time they have an election cycle, they have to do L&A (Login & Accuracy) Testing before and after.”

Case explained that he is thinking of a simple metal building but that they needed to reach a decision before they could work on plans. He said, “We’ve got the 2024 elections, we’re under a time crunch here.”

Case and Rumley suggested the formation of a subcommittee of two city commissioners and two county commissioners (who will be selected at the next county and city meetings) to lead the project. Robin Rogers (county attorney) confirmed that meetings of that subcommittee would be open to the public.

The proposed area for the animal shelter is behind the Dade County Recycling Center.

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