BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — DANVERS — In the past several years, the town has gone from eight voting locations to one, then back to four. Now the town manager wants to return to having the entire town vote at the high school.
Town Manager Wayne Marquis raised the idea with selectmen recently, saying it could save money and improve administration of elections.
The town clerk said he would be better able to deal with voting machines that malfunction and answer voters’ questions about which precinct they belong to if polling were to take place in one location.
“I’ve always been an advocate ... of having all polls under one roof,” Town Clerk Joseph Collins yesterday. “Administratively, it’s a blessing.” Savings come from having to hire fewer custodians, he said.
The high school was off-limits for voting the past three years because of construction, but Marquis suggested that the town return to using it for all voting starting with the May town election. Selectmen must make the decision.
It’s an idea the town has tried with mixed results in the past.
Selectman Dan Bennett cited concerns about traffic on Cabot Road after a snowy special election in January 2010, concerns that led to the board’s rejection of a single voting place.
“There was a disaster,” Bennett said at a meeting last week. “I think going back to one location is a mistake.”
“There are a lot of positives,” Bennett conceded yesterday, but added, “If one person is prevented from getting to the polls from congestion and traffic, that is not good.”
Selectman Bill Clark said at the meeting that the snowstorm and a supposedly sleepy special U.S. Senate election between Attorney General Martha Coakley and former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown caught everyone off-guard when interest in the race blew up in the final weeks of the race.
Clark called it a “perfect storm,” but he also noted that many of those stuck in traffic on Cabot Road did not realize they could turn down a side street to get around the bottleneck.
“I liked one location because it was a pancake breakfast without the pancakes,” said Selectman David Mills, who used to vote at Town Hall, which is just across the street from his house. He liked the move back to the high school, though he was not involved in prior decisions on polling locations.
“I have always been in favor of one location,” said Selectman Diane Langlais, a new member of the board and former member of the Finance Committee. She said she lives within walking distance of the polls at the Thorpe School on Avon Road, but the way the precinct lines are drawn, she has to drive across town to Smith School on Lobao Drive.
“I have always been supportive of a single site, and I still am,” said Selectman Gardner Trask. He said no one can fully plan for traffic when an election takes place during a storm. He said a single voting site would encourage voting.
“I think it will add clarity, and it will encourage people to vote,” he said. “I think we have to transcend precinct pride and have Danvers pride.”
With a majority of the board wanting to hear more about a single polling location plan, Marquis said he would update the board next month.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.