Former NAPA building gets Comcast internet connection as in-person early voting looms

An Xfinity service truck heads north on Walnut at 3rd Street on Feb. 2, 2022 after exiting from the former NAPA parking lot, which is out of the frame to the right. The downtown transit center is visible in the left of the photo.

Last Thursday (Jan. 27), Monroe County’s election board voted to make the former NAPA building at the corner of 3rd and Walnut streets the location of early in-person voting for 2022 elections.

On Wednesday morning, the three-member board of county commissioners voted to approve a contract with Comcast for the needed internet connectivity, to make it possible to run elections out of the currently vacant building.

According to the background information in the meeting information packet, the initial fee is $119.95 with a monthly recurring fee of $190 for 1G/35 Mbps service.

On Wednesday, county commissioners noted the short timeline for getting the building ready for in-person early voting, which starts on April 5. That’s just about eight weeks away.

Commissioner Penny Githens said that using the former NAPA building, instead of the old Johnson Hardware building at 7th and Madison streets, should reduce wait times, compared to 2020. At times that year, the line wrapped around the whole block.

The better part of 2021, which was an off year for all sections, was spent on wrangling between the election board and the county commissioners over the space allocation for the election division. Election board members are still 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.

Election board members still consider using the former NAPA building for 2022 as a way of making do with available resources—it’s not ideal. The election division continues to be housed in part of the first floor of the Johnson Hardware building, which is known  as Election Central. And some election functions will still operate out of that building this year.

The former NAPA building is an available resource because 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 contract with Comcast on the Wednesday agenda for the county commissioners was not a surprise. At a Jan. 20 election board meeting, the county’s chief technology officer, Eric Evans had sketched out options for internet connectivity for the former NAPA building, which included a Comcast/Xfinity connection. Evans told the board that if an Xfinity connection is available, and it is, the plan is to put a special router on each end of it, to encrypt everything.

During Wednesday’s commissioners meeting, Evans noted that the staffer who was meeting the Comcast service technician at the building that morning, to install the service, had not yet returned. That meant he was still at the former NAPA building overseeing the internet service installation as the vote was being taken.

On Thursday this week (Feb. 3) at 1 p.m., the county election board will resume its meeting from last week, which currently is in a state of recess. Voting locations and space configuration will again be on the agenda.