PEABODY — The city is cutting its number of polling locations by half due to the coronavirus pandemic and the need for social distancing.
In a special City Council meeting held on Zoom Thursday evening, councilors voted 11-0 in favor of a plan to consolidate Peabody’s 14 polling locations into seven.
Council President Tom Rossignoll said the plan will get posted for three days, and the council will take a final vote on the plan at its regularly scheduled meeting on July 9.
“This is unprecedented circumstances we are dealing with, the pandemic and as well as the edicts that are coming down from the state,” Rossignoll said.
The change would be in effect for the state primary on Sept. 1 and the 2020 election on Nov. 3.
At first, City Clerk Allyson Danforth had proposed consolidating the city’s 14 polling places for 19 precincts into just three locations for the upcoming elections. But officials preferred having a polling location in each ward, prompting Danforth to come up with this new plan.
Under the consolidation, all three precincts of Ward 1 will vote at the Brown School, all three precincts of Ward 2 will vote at the Welch School, and all three precincts of Ward 3 will vote at the Senior Center. All three precincts of Ward 4 will vote at the Higgins Middle School with the exception of Ward 4 Precinct 3A, which will continue to vote in the Macintosh Clubhouse of Brooksby Village. All three precincts of Ward 5 will vote at Peabody Veterans Memorial High and all three precincts of Ward 6 will vote at the Burke School.
Councilor Joel Saslaw noted that the high school, which will host Ward 5, is in Ward 4. He still backed the plan.
Brooksby Village is the only polling location the city did not seek to change.
Danforth said due to the pandemic, the city reviewed all its polling locations and realized many of them could not be used. For instance, Danforth said they could not use the assisted living and nursing facility at 240 Lynnfield St. for Ward 1, Precinct 2 due to the pandemic.
Smaller locations such as Calvary Baptist Church, Wilson Terrace and Smith Barn are not large enough to keep poll workers and voters safely apart. Two precincts at St. Ann’s Church on Lynn Street only had one door for access and egress.
Danforth had proposed using the Higgins Middle for Wards 1 and 2, the Torigian Senior Center for Wards 3 and 4 and Peabody High for Wards 5 and 6. But she said she received feedback with a preference for polling locations in each ward.
Danforth submitted a late communication to councilors with her revised plans. Officials also noted that pending legislation that would allow cities and towns to eliminate checkout tables will mean polls would require a smaller footprint.
On Thursday, Danforth said retired City Clerk Tim Spanos, Facilities Director James Hafey and she assessed a number of schools to see if they would be large enough to meet state social distancing guidelines.
Councilor-at-large Ryan Melville said the council’s preference would have been to keep the polling locations as they were if it were not for the pandemic. He liked that Danforth was maximizing as many locations as possible.
“This seems like this is adapting to a challenging situation,” Melville said.
Ward 1 Councilor Craig Welton suggested posting signs on the door of St. Ann’s Church to let residents know of the change in polling locations on election days.
School Committee Vice Chairman Beverley Griffin Dunne said she was assured that the city would clean the schools properly after voting takes place.
“I feel the locations you have chosen are excellent because of the entrances and exits of the buildings,” Dunne said.
She said the School Committee moved the first day of school so it would not conflict with the state primary, knowing that it would not be a good idea to have voter and school traffic converging on the schools on the same day. She said early voting at the Higgins Middle School could be a concern, because staff development across the district takes place there. Danforth said officials were looking at holding early voting at a different location.
Ward 4 Councilor Edward Charest made a motion that if the plan is approved, a notice should go out in residents’ electric bills.
Peabody 2020 polling locations
Ward-Precinct Old polling location New polling location
1-1 St. Ann’s Church Brown School gym
1-2 Chelsea Jewish Lifecare/Kaplan Estates Brown School cafeteria
1-3 St. Ann’s Church Brown School gym
2-1 Welch School Welch School gym
2-2 Welch School Welch School gym
2-3 South School Welch School cafeteria
3-1 Our Lady of Fatima Church Senior Center Jubilee Room
3-2 Our Lady of Fatima Church Senior Center Jubilee Room
3-3 Wilson Terrace Rec. Hall Senior Center Jubilee Room
4-1 Calvary Baptist Church Higgins Middle School gym
4-2 Smith Barn Higgins Middle School gym
4-3 Peabody High Higgins Middle School gym
4-3A 300 Brooksby Village Drive, Macintosh Clubhouse Remains unchanged
5-1 West Congregational Church Peabody High field house
5-2 West Congregational Church Peabody High field house
5-3 McCarthy School Peabody High field house
6-1 West Memorial School Burke School cafeteria
6-2 Burke School Burke School gym
6-3 Burke School Burke School gym