SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

October 23, 2013

School board vs. registrars -- no decision

BY ALAN BURKE
STAFF WRITER

---- — PEABODY — The School Committee and the Board of Registrars disagreed last night on whether voting should continue in the Peabody schools. But they did it politely.

On the other hand, in a one-hour-plus meeting, nothing was really settled except that no change will come prior to the upcoming Nov. 5 city election. So, vote in the same old place. For his part, registrar and City Clerk Tim Spanos noted that June is the deadline to rearrange voting for the 2014 election.

School board members, who believe state law gives them control over the buildings, made the case that voting detracts from the mission of the schools and even represents a threat to students because of heavy traffic and strangers entering the building. Currently, 11 of 19 polling places are in schools.

The registrars, meanwhile, stressed the disruption they would face in finding alternate places for voting, suggesting it would cost money and present an obstacle, discouraging people from exercising their franchise.

“I don’t think anybody here is looking to ram anything down anybody’s throat,” said School Committee member Jarrod Hochman.

“What I’ve been asking for is to have a discussion,” said colleague Ed Charest. While he recalled hearing complaints from school principals about the burden of turning parts of the schools over for voting, he stressed that he wanted to hear the registrars’ ideas.

“Can we get you to change your ideas?” Mike Moutsoulas, a registrar, responded, smiling.

Charest referenced traffic problems, noting, “I know people who don’t like going to the school to vote because they go when school is getting out. They hate that.”

“I’m sure,” Spanos said.

Hochman asked if the Northshore Mall could be a good spot for voting, perhaps with a wing designated the only location citywide. The mall might embrace the idea, he suggested.

“They’ll bring food to poll workers. They’ll pick up the cost of police details.” Horrific things have happened in schools, he said before positing, “If you went to (police) Chief (Robert) Champagne and told him we’re going to have voting at the police station, he’d tell you to go fly a kite.”

Registrar Judith Blodgett mused on that before pointing out that she’s never asked the chief about voting in his police station. She rejected the idea of voting at the mall as those who don’t go to the mall to shop won’t go there to vote, she said. Other communities have tried to establish a single voting location, she said, only to find it “was a disaster.”

The registrars agreed that they are constantly reviewing procedures and looking for better places to put their ballot boxes. Blodgett expressed interest in a suggestion that voters could cast ballots at the city golf club. Other than that, she indicated, all school board suggestions have already been considered and rejected.

“I feel like we vetted these to the nth degree,” Blodgett said. “I suppose we could revisit it. I don’t know if we’d have different results.”

Board member Beverley Griffin-Dunne, a lone school voice against removing the ballot boxes, said, “I just think it is our duty to work with the city and find places for polling.” She noted that some voters are loath to cast a ballot in private facilities, especially those used for religious services.

All parties agreed to meet again to discuss the issue on Dec. 10.

Alan Burke can be reached at aburke@salemnews.com.