One sentence in proposed legislation from the General Assembly’s fall 2019 session could change the way the Commonwealth’s citizens vote for years to come – “Any registered voter may vote by absentee ballot in accordance with the provisions of this chapter in any election in which he is qualified to vote.”
The majority of the departmental offices of the Voter Registrars are relatively modest in size when compared with other City or County departments in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Their busiest periods are typically immediately preceding and following elections each year. The peak of the busiest periods is the spring and fall election days, as well as days prior allowed for absentee voting. With its approval by Governor Northam on April 11, 2020 and effective on July 1, 2020, House Bill 001 permits any registered voter to vote by absentee ballot in any election in which they are qualified to vote. This “no-excuse” early voting legislation removes the current list of statutory reasons under which a person may be entitled to vote by absentee ballot and removes references to those reasons from other sections of the Code of Virginia. The bill introduced on November 18, 2019 and its impact statement indicated there was “no state fiscal impact” as localities are responsible for conducting elections, including absentee voting by mail or in person voting, and would be responsible for any potential impact of changes necessary to facilitate the proposed voting process. Virginia cities and counties closely monitor pending legislation and quickly act, when needed.
Albemarle County’s Department of Facilities & Environmental Services (FES) was conducting a space needs assessment for County facilities in the fall of 2019 in collaboration with Moseley Architects. In their space needs interviews with the General Registrar, the need for more space and pending legislation was discussed at length. The County’s FES contacted Moseley Architects in late October of 2019 regarding developing new space for the General Registrar in anticipation of the introduction and passing of the “no-excuse” early voting legislation. The existing space which houses the General Registrar did not have adequate square footage to run an absentee voting function, but a large adjacent training room was available in the same facility and could meet the need. The greater issue was the lack of available parking for the potential absentee voting citizens that could take advantage of the month and half voting period prior to November 3. A new facility needed to be functional 60 days prior to the election date, and it was determined that 11 months was not adequate time to select a location, acquire the property if needed, design and permit, and then construct a new permanent facility. The County’s FES partnered with Moseley Architects to assess several available privately-owned facilities for lease and renovation to prepare the General Registrar for the effects of the anticipated legislation.
The County and Moseley Architects coordinated with the County building official to streamline the review process. Additionally, they collaborated on a design to allow the large space to both be used for the absentee voting and a community meeting space when it was not being used by the General Registrar. This space would provide a great benefit to the County’s citizens because the space was centrally located with ample parking and independent of other competing needs. The coronavirus pandemic, which caused most staff to work from home fostered closer teamwork between the County and Moseley Architects. This teamwork overcame the challenges and allowed design documents to be prepared and permitted. The tight budget and schedule required constant communication to remove any budget and schedule obstacles.
The County arranged to acquire construction materials with long-lead times independent of the main project to save capital funds and deliver the completed renovation on schedule. Moseley Architects analyzed each design decision to provide the best value to the County, and the renovation project was advertised for bidding on schedule, 40 days after the site selection was made by the County.
Subsequent to the completion of the design and during the bidding for construction, the County determined that the County could have staff work from home during the 45 days prior to the 2020 election. As a result, this will make parking available for absentee voters and not require a relocation of the General Registrar’s offices. The design documents will be held for future implementation. The success of this project was due to the County’s and Moseley Architects’ planning to design solutions that enrich the lives of Albemarle County’s citizens.
CONTACT | Tony Bell | Vice President | firstname.lastname@example.org