Preston voters reject moving polling place, ask for study first

Preston — About 40 residents voted nearly unanimously Thursday against a proposal to move the regular town polling place to the Preston Veterans’ Memorial School, where Thursday’s town meeting on the petition to change the polling place was held.

Following the vote against moving the polling place, residents voted unanimously to approve a proposal by resident Jack Smallwood to establish a bipartisan committee to study various possible polling places in town. The committee will include a selectman, a member from the Board of Education, both registrars of voters and one resident selected by the Board of Selectmen. Once formed, the committee will have six months to complete its study.

Residents debated the pros and cons of moving the polling place to the school, with supporters citing the long, uneven concrete handicapped access ramp at Town Hall, cramped conditions and busy traffic on Route 2. Opponents said the outdated handicapped ramp needs to be fixed for everyday Town Hall use, not just for voting. They also argued that moving the polling place to the school would cause traffic congestion and safety issues for students.

Resident Melissa Lennon read a note her 10-year-old daughter, Gianna Lennon, wrote and asked her mother to read at the meeting. The girl wrote that it would be unsafe to move the polling place to the school.

“If someone came to vote who really did not really come to vote and they had a weapon,” Melissa Lennon read, “If they got in to where the students and teachers were, they could harm us.”

Resident and former Republican Registrar Norman Gauthier, who circulated the petition asking for the town meeting to vote on changing the polling place, argued that town elections have outgrown Town Hall. Gauthier said when Town Hall opened in 1974, the town had 1,500 registered voters and Route 2 was a “rural road.” The town now has more than 3,000 registered voters, he said, the lower level where elections are held is crowded, and Route 2 is a state highway busy with traffic.

Gauthier said the long, uneven handicapped ramp does not meet current handicapped accessibility standards and creates a hardship for elderly or handicapped voters.

Resident Julie Eccleston said she is handicapped but argued against moving the polling place. She said at Town Hall, “everything we have is under one roof.” She said workers would have to “shuffle” equipment back and forth.

“We do need to find a fix for this,” Eccleston said. “We can’t just put a Band-aid over things. It’s not just for election time, it’s for every single day.”

“It would be interesting to know how much it would cost to modify the ramp at Town Hall,” resident Merrill Gerber said.

Democratic Registrar Cheryl Roberts cited logistical problems with the move. If the school went into a security lockdown, voting could not stop. She said more equipment would need to be purchased and more poll workers hired to run elections at the school. And she questioned how Election Day registration would work during a presidential election.

“Everybody should be budget conscious about this,” Roberts said. “It’s going to cost you more.”

Discussion was sidelined for a bit when resident Andy Bilodeau attempted to make a motion to postpone the decision on the polling place “indefinitely” until all questions posed have viable answers. Town meeting Moderator Nick Vegliante initially ruled that motion out of order, saying the petition took precedence.

Resident Andy Depta moved to challenge Vegliante’s ruling, but voters overwhelmingly rejected Depta’s move, and then voted to reject the move to the school.

c.bessette@theday.com

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