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Petition for Saturday Town Election Soundly Defeated at Town Meeting

Town Meeting voters were clear in their opposition to changing the date of Danvers' annual town election from Tuesday to Saturday.

If Town Meeting voters had one clear message to send Monday night, it was to keep the Town Election right where it is on the first Tuesday of May.

A handful of Town Meeting members spoke on the issue, giving pros and cons for a change, but when it came time to decide, the voice vote in the Danvers High auditorium was resoundingly against making any changes.

John Zavaglia had introduced a petition to move the date of the election from Tuesday to the first Saturday of the month with poll hours of 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. He then amended that proposal Monday night to have polls open until 8 p.m.

The Finance Committee recommended no action be taken on the proposal.

Zavaglia said his chief concern in suggesting the change was safety for students -- school remains in session that day at the two elementary schools and the middle school, which are now used as three of four polling sites in town.

He said the proposal first occurred to him after a Tuesday election in November and was then reinforced in recent months in the wake of the tragedies at Sandy Hook Elementary School and the Boston Marathon.

Zavaglia argued that Danvers needs to be proactive on the issue, not reactive.

He pointed to some local colleges and high schools who are being "proactive" by looking at options for increasing security at graduation ceremonies in light of last month's bombing in Boston.

Additionally, he felt it would be more convenient for voters to come out on a Saturday than try to find time during the work week and said the extra cost, which was estimated between 2,500-$3,600, was a small fraction of the town's budget overall.

"I think we’re beating a dead horse here. There’s nothing wrong with Tuesday. Period. What’s the matter with everyone? If they’re going to come, they’re going to come," said Bill Nicholson, heatedly, after discussion dragged on for several minutes.

Nicholson argued mainly against any idea that more voters would hit the polls on the weekend rather than on a Tuesday. He said issues or certain races drive people to vote.

"Why change something if it’s already working quite well?" he said. "People will vote on issues; if there aren’t really a lot of issues, people won’t vote, unfortunately."

Even if Town Meeting members were amenable to Saturday elections, Zavaglia learned Monday night that changing the town bylaw was just the first of three steps in that process.

Both the Town Manager Act and the Town Charter, which specify the first Tuesday in May as Election Day, would also need to be changed and in order to do that, Town Meeting would have to support requests for home rule petitions to the state legislature.

An effort to establish a five-person committee of Town Meeting members to explore various options on when the annual election could be held was also soundly defeated.

One Town Meeting member noted that federal and state elections would still be on Tuesday, regardless, and changing the local election to Saturday would likely just throw more confusion into the mix.

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