To the editor:
This morning I read an article by Congressman John Lewis of Georgia in which he said: “In a democracy such as ours, the right to vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool the people have in a democratic society.”
I have had voting rights on my mind a lot recently because of the Brimbal Avenue rezoning referendum. The vote on this referendum is scheduled to take place in a SINGLE POLLING PLACE ON A SATURDAY in the middle of winter in the city of Beverly. Massachusetts laws prohibit a single polling place for an election in a city (MGL ch 54 section 24). Yet our state Legislature has been asked to pass a special act to allow this election. The reason for the single polling place is to save the city money — but at what expense to the rights of the voters?
Think about these points:
In 2013, Feb. 8 was the biggest snow storm of the year.
The high school field house is on the opposite side of the building from the major parking area.
Parking is limited to 460 vehicles.
There are more than 25,400 registered voters in Beverly. If even only half of them turned out there could be 1,000 voters per hour at the single polling place if all were spaced out evenly over the 13 hours of polling. Where will they park? How will the handicapped access the polling place? Beverly High School is not an easy place to walk to from most neighborhoods.
This issue is amplified by the fact that the City Charter is confusing and unclear on the number of votes required for the referendum. My interpretation is that the section for citizen referendum does not state a minimum number of votes required. However, the city may point to a “rogue” line in another section that says that a referendum must achieve 20 percent of the votes of the registered voters (in this case about 5,000 ‘‘no” votes), which would require an incredibly high turnout to even be possible. In the last election for mayor, only 10,000 voters turned out. In the previous primary only 4,300 voters turned out. These elections were in good weather at local polling places on the normal Tuesdays.
This election could have been scheduled to take place during the next general election in November 2014 at all normal polling places at the usual day at no extra cost to the city. What is the big rush?
Does the city have the right to disenfranchise voters who may not be able to make it to the polls on Feb. 8? Some may obtain absentee ballots, but these are only available to voters who will not be in the city on Feb. 8 or who are unable to go to the polls due to disability and must be obtained in advance.
Snowstorms or inability to find a parking space do not qualify for absentee ballots.
Yes, Representative Lewis, “...the right to vote is precious” but our City Council in Beverly does not seem to appreciate that!
Dr. Mary Rodrick