The McDowell County Board of Elections has moved into a new and much bigger location with plenty of parking, additional space for early voting and room to store all of the voting equipment.

The county’s Board of Elections offices are now located at 2458 N.C. 226 South in the former Club Fitness building next to Las Salsas Mexican Restaurant. Elections Director Kim Welborn said her office started operating at this location on Wednesday, July 31.

In January of this year, the McDowell County Board of Commissioners approved leasing the building for three years at $3,000 a month. James and Brian McKinney are the owners of the old Club Fitness property. The idea was to get the elections office out of the second floor of the County Administration Building and find a single location for all of the voting equipment.

“Everything is going to be so much better now,” said Welborn to The McDowell News.

Since then, the county worked to change the old fitness center into a larger and more modern space for the elections board. The 8,500-square-foot structure has new offices for Welborn and Jane Dale, who is the deputy director of elections.

This new location will be used by the Board of Elections offices only. Welborn said she is not sure yet what will happen with the old offices in the Administration Building.

There is also a new boardroom where the county Board of Elections can conduct business. The board is now comprised of Dean Buff (chairman), Jimmie Hachadurian (secretary), Tom Cline (member), Della Watson (member) and Kay House (member).

The elections office has two full-time employees (Welborn and Dale) and one part-time employee. But the number of people working there can change during the election season. Welborn said many people have the mistaken idea her office only functions when there is an election but that is not the case.

The back part of the building has room to store all of the voting equipment, voting booths and signs that are set up at all of the 17 precincts during a countywide election. For years, the more than 30 voting machines and equipment were stored in various office spaces and storage rooms owned by the county.

“We had them stored everywhere,” said Welborn. “We’re just thankful we can have them all in one space now.”

The back part also has a garage door which makes it much easier to move the machines in and out.

“People don’t realize how much stuff it takes to put on an election,” said Welborn.

The hours for the new Board of Elections office are the same as they were at the County Administration Building. It has a new direct number: 659-0834. The Web site remains the same

The large front lobby will be the new location for early, one-stop voting. Welborn said there may be an early voting location in Old Fort but that has to be determined.

On Election Night, the results will be displayed on a big video screen in the lobby like they used to be at the Administration Building. But more and more people are checking the results online too.

This new building on N.C. 226 South will host an educational seminar later this month about the voter ID requirements.

The McDowell Board of Elections will hold two educational seminars about voter photo identification requirements at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 28. The seminar is free and open to the public.

Beginning in 2020, voters will be required to provide photo identification before they vote. This includes both in-person and by-mail voting, with some exceptions. In November 2018, North Carolina voters approved an amendment to the N.C. Constitution to require voters to present photo ID at the polls.

Session Law 2018-144 requires each county board of elections to hold at least two voter ID seminars before Sept. 1, 2019. Attendees also will receive information about voting options, including absentee-by-mail, one-stop early voting and Election Day voting. Information about provisional voting, the availability of free North Carolina voter ID cards and residency requirements for voting also will be provided, according to a news release.