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Board Votes to Move All Town Voting to Danvers High

Town officials say there's a cost savings and greater efficiency to having just one polling site for voters.

Danvers voters will now visit just one polling site on Election Day. Credit: File photo
Danvers voters will now visit just one polling site on Election Day. Credit: File photo
The Board of Selectmen agreed Tuesday night to consolidate the town's four polling sites into one location at Danvers High School again. The change will be effective for the next Town Election in May.

Town officials argued a central location would save money, be much more efficient and would eliminate confusion about where to vote while selectmen noted they've received numerous concerns in recent weeks from residents about congestion, traffic flow, parking and proximity to the polls if voting returns to Danvers High.

The Vye Gym at the high school welcomed all the town's voters for two years until 2010 when selectmen decided to return to multiple polling sites as construction at the high school was about to begin.

Town Manager Wayne Marquis said Tuesday the town will save between $1,600 and $6,400 annually, depending on how many elections are actually held in a fiscal year -- normally there are two (municipal and state/federal).

But even more importantly, he said, election officials will be in the same room for most of the day with all the voters at each of the precincts and therefore will be able to quickly and efficiently address any problems that arise.

Selectmen indicated the most common questions voters have on Election Day is where to vote because either precincts or polling locations have changed.

Marquis said that with the completion of renovations at Danvers High, parking and general access is greatly improved. There's also better lighting and HVAC systems inside the building and in the gym as well as other improvements.

Permanent handicap parking is now situated close to the gym and there's more parking in general.

Marquis added that removing voting from elementary schools also relieves some "anxieties" about school safety. He said he also spoke with School Superintendent Lisa Dana about scheduling to cancel school on regular election days and conduct professional development for staff instead.

"When it worked right, it was fantastic," said Selectman Bill Clark.

Clark said historic turnouts both for the presidential election in 2008 between Barack Obama and John McCain and the special election between Scott Brown and Martha Coakley in January 2010 were a main part of the congestion problem at the polls.

Town plow crews also did a "horrendous" job clearing Cabot Road that January after three major snowstorms, according to Clark, and everyone tried to use the same road to get to the high school when there are actually multiple routes to get there.

Clark noted there is now just one entrance point from Cabot Road to the high school and two separate exits. If voters follow the rules, that should also help with traffic flow, he said.

The town initially went from eight polls down to one in 2008 for the same reasons cited today, but then increased to four sites in 2010. At the time, selectmen removed voting from the high school and planned to revisit the issue once the three-year renovation project was complete.

Selectwoman Diane Langlais noted there are a number of changes in voting likely coming at the state level and the consolidation will only make that easier to deal with for town election officials.

"It's not a big savings, but nothing gets cheaper," she said. "I feel that the state's going that way. I really don't want to go to anything but one."

"Some day it will be you just sit at home and vote from home," Langlais remarked."

Selectmen Gardner Trask and Dave Mills also both said the problems experienced before should be alleviated with the changes to the high school.

Trask noted motorists only have one or two access points at the four polling sites now -- the Thorpe School, Smith School, senior center and the middle school -- bad weather will adversely affect traffic whether at one site or four, and that hours of peak activity at the polls will always cause some congestion.

"I do hear the concerns, I got a lot of calls, I got a lot of stops on the street...but when I weigh the pros and cons, I can only see a benefit to going back to one polling site," Trask said.

"It's like a pancake breakfast without the pancakes," Mills quipped, adding that he didn't experience any major obstacles himself to voting at one location a few years ago.

He said he was confident the improvements outlined Tuesday night should alleviate many of the problems.

Marquis said the town would utilize a wide variety of methods to spread the word to the public about the single voting location, including message boards, phone calls, cable access, news media and the town's website.

He also noted the town of Reading, along with other communities, successfully consolidated polls to one site at its high school.

The vote was unanimous in support of the change Tuesday evening.

Selectman Dan Bennett was unable to attend the meeting, but publicly aired his opinions two weeks ago and submitted a letter to the board re-stating his opposition.

He had said he wouldn't vote for one polling site based on the "reasonable concerns" he received from numerous residents.
Alexandra Siwek December 04, 2013 at 07:36 AM
Noooooo!!!
Buddy December 04, 2013 at 11:32 AM
Yesss lol I want to see how nice the new school is.

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