BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — DANVERS — Selectmen voted last night to consolidated the town’s four polling locations under one gym roof at the newly renovated Danvers High to save money and improve administration of elections.
The four members present did this despite getting an earful from voters unhappy with the last time the town consolidated its polling locations at the high school. Residents cited the possibility of traffic jams on Cabot Road and the difficulty of finding a parking space once they get there.
“I do hear the concern,” said selectmen Chairman Gardner Trask before being one of those voting to consolidate the polling locations. “And, I got a lot of stops on the street.”
“We have been through this,” said Town Manager Wayne Marquis. Marquis said his administration is committed to making a single polling location work this time, and he suggested monthly updates on election planning.
“We are up for the challenge,” he said.
The vote was 4-0 in favor of the move. Selectman Dan Bennett, who was not at last night’s meeting, had told Trask that he did not favor a single polling location.
In 2008, the town consolidated its eight precinct voting stations into one. Then, in 2010, it moved back to four locations. The move back to four was done after a snowy special U.S. Senate election in January 2010, an election that saw a traffic jam on Cabot Road as cars tried to negotiate a sharp turn on Chestnut Street on treacherous roads.
The expanded number of polling locations was also prompted by a massive renovation project at Danvers High for the past three years, work that made it off-limits to voters.
With the project finished this fall, Marquis brought up the idea of moving voting back to a renovated Vye gym.
He also said parking and handicapped parking has improved, and there is a new turnaround adjacent to the entrance to the gym, which is at the back of the student parking lot. There are about 80 parking spaces in the vicinity of the gym, Selectman Bill Clark said.
Marquis said there are several advantages to having a single polling location. Depending on the number of elections in a given year, it can save the town $1,600 to $6,400 because less staff is required. Marquis said by far the biggest advantage is “the improved capability to serve the voting public” and the management of the voting process.
With voting at a single polling location, the town clerk can quickly clear up voters’ confusion about registration issues without having to travel across town to do so. In addition, if a resident shows up at the wrong precinct polling station to vote, all he or she has to do is move to the next station, not drive across town.
A single polling location removes elementary schools from serving as polling places when schools are in session during an election. The plan is to schedule professional-development days during elections so that the high school is not in session when voting takes place.
Selectwoman Diane Langlais said bills on Beacon Hill that are designed to enhance voting, such as online voting, early voting and other changes make a single polling location more appealing.
Selectman David Mills said he liked having the town vote all in one place.
“I happen to like it because it’s like a pancake breakfast without the pancakes,” said Mills, who also heard from older residents complaining of access and parking problems at the high school. He at first suggested putting off a vote until Marquis made a presentation on parking, but then he changed his thinking after hearing from other selectmen.
Clark pointed out that there are several ways to get to the high school besides Cabot Road and that parking and access is limited at three of the most recent voting locations, Smith and Thorpe elementary schools and the Senior Center.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.