2 Warren County polling places changed due to safety concerns

Heavy turnout for presidential election prompted locations to opt out.

Fears about safety on election day this year have prompted the relocation of two polling places in Warren County.

Polls at the Resurrection Lutheran Church in Lebanon and Mason Early Childhood Learning Center are among 13 moved for the Nov. 8 election.

But only these two are moving due to safety concerns expressed by church or school officials, according to Brian Sleeth, director of the Warren County Board of Elections.

“This presidential election scared them off,” Sleeth said after distributing a list of the polling place moves.

Protests have resulted in arrests and violence during campaign stops in the race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Sleeth, however, said the concern was based more on predictions of high turnout for the presidential race and others down the ticket.

Election officials expect more voters than ever as a result of a greater than a 50-percent jump in voter registration from 96,536 in November 2000 to 150,159 currently in Warren County.

With turnout expected to exceed 80 percent, the expectation of big crowds of voters, along with “the potential of something going bad,” motivated the officials calling for the polling place changes, Sleeth said.

The other 11 poll changes were made to improve locations, avoid parking problems or shift the polling place to a larger building, according to the board list. This affects more than 10,000 voters.

According to the list, Mason schools were “concerned with student safety during elections” in denying the board access to the Early Childhood Learning Center for the Nov. 8 election.

“Church leadership asked us to leave” Resurrection Lutheran, the board list said.

Resurrection Lutheran is a small church “celebrating 50 years of service” on the north side of downtown Lebanon. On Nov. 8, the church calendar indicates a 9:15 a.m. men’s bible reading and 6:30 p.m. Narcotics Anonymous and 4-H meetings are scheduled.

The voters from the two precincts who had been casting ballots there will be going to the Heritage Baptist Church, north of Lebanon, at the corner of U.S. 42 and Utica Road.

On election day, students from preschool through second grade will attend Mason Early Childhood Learning Center (MECC) on Hickory Woods Drive in Mason.

“MECC embraces the Responsive Classroom Approach to working with children. It is a way of teaching that emphasizes social, emotional and academic growth in a strong and safe school community. The goal of the Responsive Classroom philosophy is to create a safe, challenging and joyful classroom where children experience success both academically and socially,” according to its mission statement.

On Nov. 8, voters from the two precincts will be voting at the Grace Chapel on 4th Avenue in Mason, rather than the school.

“We’d been there a long time,” Sleeth said.

Officials from the school district and church did not respond to requests for comment.

Sleeth said he assured the school and church officials the polls would be safe on Nov. 8, as they have been in the past. He said he had met with area police chiefs to keep the peace on election day.

“We’re going to have police presence at all our large polling places,” he said.

Election officials pay $50 to a polling place and try to clean up, but Sleeth acknowledged the wear and tear can be significant.

Rich Harrison, an assistant pastor at Heritage Baptist Church, said the church agreed to serve as polling place for the two precincts it had been serving, as well as those that had been voting at Resurrection Lutheran, as part of its commitment to the community.

“Our mission is loving God and loving the community,” Harrison said at the church.

Election officials try to minimize poll location changes to keep costs down, minimize voter confusion and maximize turnout, Sleeth said.

Cards went out a few weeks ago notifying voters of the changes and providing directions to the new polling place.

“Hopefully they see it and know they moved,” Sleeth said.

Signs will also be posted at the former locations for voters who drive to there on election day.

Rather than consider a temporary move, election officials decided to make permanent changes to save money and avoid confusing voters in the next election.

“I’m trying not to do this,” Sleeth said.

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