Election board: Former NAPA building to be used for early, in-person voting in Monroe County

In 2022, Monroe County’s in-person early voting will take place at the former NAPA building on the southwest corner of 3rd and Walnut streets in downtown Bloomington. That’s for the the primary and general elections alike.

There’s still a chance that some early in-person ballots could also be cast at Election Central, in the old Johnson Hardware building at 7th and Madison streets. But that will depend on recruitment of enough election workers to staff both locations.

The use of the NAPA building as an in-person early voting location was approved by a unanimous vote of the county’s three-person election board at its Thursday session.

For the final two weeks of the four-week early voting period, Election Central could be added as an in-person location, but only if an adequate number of election workers can be recruited.

Monroe County election supervisor Karen Wheeler called on potential poll workers to step up. Some past workers are now in their upper 80s or over 90 years old, she said. In the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wheeler does not feel comfortable asking them to work this year.

For basic background on pay and election worker requirements, the county election division has set up a webpage: web page for poll workers. The contact phone number for potential election workers is 812-349-2690. Email messages can be sent to election [at] co.monroe.in.us

Election board member Donovan Garletts led off Thursday’s meeting by reporting to other board members his efforts since last week to reach decision makers at five potential non-downtown Bloomington satellite in-person early voting locations: Ellettsville’s town hall (north); City Church (east); Eastside Church of the Nazarene (southeast); Southside Christian Church (south); and Monroe County fairgrounds (west).

Garletts said he’d made contact with four out of five locations. Questions about daily setup and breakdown and concerns about the four-week time frame for early voting meant he could not report any firm commitments.

The election board’s discussion of potential satellite in-person voting locations at its meetings this year have come after county commissioners asked for consideration of non-downtown Bloomington voting sites, to give more access to rural voters.

In early October of 2021, county commissioner Julie Thomas told the election board, “We strongly encourage the election board to consider creating additional satellite locations that are not downtown.”

On that occasion, Thomas added, “We have contacts all throughout this community. You know, we could think of township offices and fire stations and all kinds of places everywhere, where this could be really convenient and a great thing for our community.”

But for 2022 anyway, satellite locations won’t be in the mix. That does not mean they’re off the table for the presidential year of 2024.

County clerk Nicole Browne, who is one of the three election board members, had put together the set of potential satellite locations. On Thursday she said, “I can put my head on the pillow at night, that I tried to do everything to make it more accessible to rural voters.”

Browne and the other board members still see using the former NAPA building as a way of making do with available resources—it’s not ideal. They’re hoping that the election division will eventually be allocated all of the ground floor of the Johnson Hardware building as well as the second story. The other space in the building currently houses the county’s probation program.

The former NAPA building is currently vacant. It was acquired by the county government with an eye towards including the real estate in a project to expand the Monroe County convention center. The collaboration between the Monroe County and Bloomington on the project had reached a rough patch in early 2020, before the pandemic hit, and has been paused for about two years now.

The timeline for Monroe County’s facility director Greg Crohn to handle the modifications that need to be made to the NAPA building is short. The first day of in-person early voting  for the May 3 primary is April 5, which is just 67 days away.

The election board decision to settle on the former NAPA building as the main option, with Election Central to be added if possible, was based on various trade-offs.

For example, voters who are accustomed to voting early in-person at Election Central might not vote at all, if they arrive there and are told they have to head a few blocks south to cast a ballot at the NAPA building. But if a minimum election worker staffing level is provided at Election Central to handle early voting—with most of the workers deployed at the NAPA building—any line that might form at Election Central might cause someone to leave and not vote at all.

Election board chair Shruti Rana said that based on her experience monitoring elections, even the slightest barriers can cause someone not to vote. If the entrance to vote at a school is around the back and not the front door, a potential voter who arrives at the front door might just decide not to go around to the back, even though it seems easy enough to just use the other door.

“There’s all these things going through people’s minds that we don’t know about,” Rana said.

Browne said it made her “nauseous” to think about someone arriving at Election Central expecting to vote early in person and not be able to do that.

Browne summed up the strategy Monroe County’s election board will be using in 2022: Encourage as many voters as possible to vote early in-person at the former NAPA building in the first 14 days of the 28-day voting period.