Despite state law giving him authority to source new elections offices, Marion County’s Clerk was not consulted in the decision to relocate the facility which serves thousands of county residents. His objections to his exclusion and to the difficulties the hard-to-access new location will place on voters, have been officially ignored.
The “elections office” is the facility which all Marion County residents must visit if they’ve lost their ballot, moved and need a new ballot or simply want to place their completed ballot in an inside location when voting time comes.
The law in question, OR 246.250, says, “The county clerk may employ personnel and procure equipment… records and facilities of every kind as the clerk considers necessary to facilitate and assist in administering the election laws.”
However, Marion County commissioners made the decision to move the elections office to the Courthouse Square building in the center of Salem starting in spring 2014 without consulting Marion County Clerk, Bill Burgess. And since then, the county has met his objections with silence.
As the elections officer of Marion County, Burgess sees his first responsibilities as “Customer service and election integrity. We must be as accessible and helpful as possible for all voters, no matter their ability.”
He believes the downtown, Courthouse Square location is difficult for voters to get to and move around in, difficult for his team to work efficiently in and detrimental to the voting process. After the decision to move there was made without him, Burgess stated his objections in a May 19 letter to Marion County Commissioners Janet Carlson, Patti Milne and Sam Brentano. He included County Administrator Don Lattimer and Deputy County Administrator Jan Fritz in the correspondence.
Burgess’ own search, he wrote the commissioners, followed “space and location requirements for optimum operations,” and sought “a secure, operations suitable, easy-to-find site with good traffic flow, a loading dock and ample parking.” The location he identified as meeting these criteria, the Albertson’s site at Commercial and Hilfiker (now home to Trader Joe’s) was not pursued by the county.
In his letter, Burgess also recommended the former Safeway site on Commercial St SE, just south of the Vista Roth’s. The building — which is still available — has a loading dock sufficient to handle many pallets of elections materials and offers over 120 parking spaces.
Instead of either location, the county opted for the downtown Courthouse Square location, which has limited on-street parking, no off-street parking, requires residents to use either stairs or elevator, and creates significant challenges for the delivering and mailing of thousands of ballots and the parking of temporary workers.
In his letter, Burgess wrote that during the 2012 Presidential election, “The Courthouse Square curb-side ballot drop site received over 6000 ballots on Election Day. Over 4000 more people entering Courthouse Square [When the elections office goes there] will put quite a load on elevators, bathrooms and security as well as parking facilities.”
Burgess received no reply from any of the recipients of this letter. He also discussed the issue in an assigned annual “one-on-one” Department Head-Commissioners meeting in March and again during his time slot at Budget Committee hearings May 29th.
None of the county officials he addressed have yet to offer him questions or comments on the issue, either in person or in writing.
Burgess remains concerned that the Courthouse Square location will negatively impact voting in the county. “It will make it a lot harder for my voters to cast their ballots, and it will make it more difficult for my employees to do their job with the level of service we want.”
He concluded his letter to County Commissioners and Administrators writing, “I’m quite disappointed that I was not consulted on this decision, ignoring my statutory duty as the elected County Clerk to determine appropriate facilities per ORS246.250.”