Local News

Elections office undergoing renovation

SEBRING - A renovation project at the Highlands County Supervisor of Elections Office aims to improve security and update the space to align with its current needs. Supervisor of Elections Penny Ogg said Tuesday that space is needed in the office, especially during an election when it gets very cramped. Voting equipment technician Roy Wright said, "This whole suite was set up before they had electronic equipment." It wasn't set up for computers, but designed for punch cards, he said. So the cabinets were configured for the punch card counting machines.
Assistant Supervisor of Elections Karen Kensinger said the project has two goals. "It's to make it more secure and it's also to make it flow easier on the office staff on election night when there is so much activity going on," she said. Ogg said the state is pushing for higher security for the election process. "It is something we are taking seriously," she said. "We will have some features in place to try to help enhance the security that we have here." Presently there is one locked door for entry behind the counter and into all the areas in the elections office. The renovation will reconfigure the office space with three doors that will require swipe pass cards to control who has access to certain rooms in the office, Ogg said. The tabulation area will have a locked door, she said. At times when there is sensitive information in the room it will require two people to be present in the office to gain access to the room. A video surveillance system will provide recordings in the event anything happens, she said. Ogg noted that in Santa Rosa County a safe was stolen in June that contained a small number of absentee ballots. The county's supervisor of elections was able to contact the voters and have them re-vote their ballots. "In a big election, where we have had almost 10,000 absentee ballots, it could be catastrophic if somebody were to break in and vandalize your place," she said. The lobby will change with the counter moving to the opposite position from its current orientation, Ogg noted. The conference/tabulation room will move to a larger space that is currently used as an employee desk/work area that is located behind the counter. The present tabulation room will be remodeled into two offices for poll worker trainers. "This will provide a better atmosphere for better teamwork and better communication," Ogg said. "We've added an absentee [ballot] work area, which we desperately needed. We actually tore out a closet and made a space in the back for an absentee area that will be a little more secure." Also, the election equipment stored in a warehouse in Avon Park and a training facility in another location will be consolidated in the building the county acquired on Kenilworth Boulevard. "It's just easier to work together as a team when you are closer." Kensinger said at one time the lobby was the main place on election night where people came to get the results, but now with the advances in technology people are going to the election office's website for the returns so there is not as much need for lobby space. The $68,000 renovation project started Sept. 17 and is scheduled to be completed by mid December. The Supervisor of Elections Office, which is about 2,700 square feet, is located on the second floor of the Highlands County Government Center on South Commerce Avenue in Sebring. The office has five full-time and four part-time employees. About 150 poll workers are utilized during presidential elections. mvalero@highlandstoday.com 863-386-5826