The Erie County Board of Elections is starting to move back into its offices in downtown Buffalo, well over a year after a fire roared through its West Eagle Street building.
What happened on August 30 of last year was a nasty and smoky fire. It also unveiled some structural problems with the aging building at West Eagle and South Elmwood Avenue.
Republican Elections Commissioner Ralph Mohr says that contributed to the long period before board employees could start moving back in.
"Desk and cubicles and chairs have been delivered. They're being installed," Mohr says. "Currently, once that's done, there's a lot of detail work which still has to be accomplished, such as the wiring of the data lines and the phones. Slowly, we are starting to move functions back into the area of 134. We expect another month."
The rebuilt space will look different from before the fire and be more computerized and up-to-date, as the new tech systems are installed. Mohr says the key was repairing the structural problems.
"We had structural problems with the third floor of the building, which the Board of Elections was previously housed in," he says. "We had skylights which were leaking and windows which were leaking and the structure itself had not been updated for decades. What we did is we took the opportunity to make those repairs."
He says the new layout also will be better for the public, since the board can decide on the hours offices are open for processes like voter registration.
Mohr says the work is being paid for through the Board of Elections and Erie County budgets, along with some federal money.
"We've been fortunate that we had some federal HAVA money left over and we've been using some of that to make improvements to our work areas," he says. "In addition to that, we've used this opportunity to upgrade our ballot producing procedures. We're getting new printers in."
HAVA is the Help America Vote Act, which put up billions of federal dollars to update voting procedures across the nation.
Mohr says the board and its staff are anxious to get back into the building with the final shifts in late January. It will ease some coordination issues with staff in four different locations - including the Rath Building - and get everybody ready for 2018, with four regular elections slated and likely one special election during the year.