Drop-off boxes for mail-in and absentee ballots will be located in three district judges' offices in Lawrence County, beginning Monday.
Voters in the upcoming presidential election have a choice of voting in person or by mail-in or absentee ballots. For those voting by mail-in or absentee ballots, the drop boxes will make it convenient for them to not have to use the U.S. Mail service.
The boxes will be available for deposits of ballots from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, inside the court of District Judge Rick Russo in Neshannock Township, located in the Allshouse plaza; inside the court of District Judge Jennifer Nicholson, located on Route 18 South in North Beaver Township, and inside office of District Judge Jerry G. Cartwright, at 607 Lawrence Ave., Ellwood City. The boxes will be under video surveillance, and when those courts are closed, the boxes will not be available.
Voters are reminded to enclose their ballots in the secrecy envelopes in order for them to be counted. The secrecy envelopes should not have any writing or anything on them that would identify the voter, in order to ensure voter privacy.
When the drop boxes are emptied, three times a week, a county elections worker will retrieve them, accompanied by the county sheriff or one of his deputies.
Elections director Ed Allison explained that the ballots when removed from the box they will be counted as they are deposited, when they are removed, then recounted at the courthouse.
The commissioners, sitting as the county board of elections, approved the three locations Tuesday in a 2 to 1 vote. Commissioner Dan Vogler opposed the move, iterating that he doesn't feel locating the boxes in certain locations is fair to all of the people in all of the municipalities and gives voters in those areas unfair advantage to get their votes in. He had cited similar reasons last week when he voted against purchasing the boxes.
Voters also can choose to put their ballots in the mail, or hand-deliver them in person to the voters office in the courthouse, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays.
The election board last week voted to purchase four of the drop boxes. Allison said Tuesday that the cost is $920 per box, and they are readily available at New Castle Lock and Key.
Commissioner Morgan Boyd presented county maps that were created by the deputy county planning director Allen Miller, showing driving distances to the courthouse and driving distances to the three drop box sites.
"Right now 62 percent of the voters in Lawrence County are within 15 minutes drive of the courthouse," Boyd said. The placement of the three boxes will increase the percentage to 92 percent of the voters who will have access to depositing their ballots.
"Is it a perfect solution? No it's not," Boyd said. "The perfect situation simply just does not exist."
Vogler countered that placing the three boxes in the three locations "creates and advantage for some voters ... and your maps have proven that. Unless there are locations that make it fair, I can't go along with it."
Boyd noted that both the Democratic party and the Republican committee have said it is amenable to have the drop boxes placed where there are cameras on them.
The board members discussed placing the fourth box in front of the courthouse, but Allison contends that as long as the voters can take ballots to his office, it is preferable that his staff handle them there directly.
In other matters, the election board approved the establishment of a voting place at Parkside Alliance Church at 701 Jefferson Ave. in Ellwood City for voters in the borough's fifth ward, first precinct. The Tree of Life building that previously housed that polling site is now closed as part of the Ellwood City Hospital bankruptcy case.