Amherst council may reverse move to one town polling station

  • Amherst Regional High School

Staff Writer
Published: 8/6/2020 6:58:20 PM

AMHERST — An alternate proposal that would keep intact most of the current polling locations in town for the Sept. 1 primary and Nov. 3 presidential election will be considered Monday by the Town Council.

Although councilors voted 7-6 this week in favor of a plan presented by Town Clerk Shavena Martin to have the more than 17,000 voters do in-person voting on the day of the election at Amherst Regional High School, this consolidation plan was criticized by some councilors and members of the public as potentially suppressing voters by causing confusion, creating long lines and risking the spread of COVID-19.

Under Option 2, posted on the town website Thursday, only Precincts 4 and 10, whose voters go to the Bangs Community Center, would be moved to the high school, with the other eight sites throughout town remaining intact. Those other sites range from the North Zion Korean Church in North Amherst, where Precinct 1 votes, to the Munson Memorial Library in South Amherst, where Precinct 8 votes.

Whether this option is workable is unclear, as the North Fire Station is considered a locked-down building due to the pandemic and Superintendent Michael Morris has reservations about using the cafetorium at Crocker Farm School.

The narrative for the option states, “By preserving as many polling locations as possible, and moving only two voting precincts, Amherst will avoid long lines and waiting times, and be able to provide indoor voting with outdoor waiting lines with sufficient spacing as recommended by CDC and public health officials.”

Council President Lynn Griesemer said the option is being provided based on advice from town attorney KP Law.

“It allows the council to consider Option 2 as well as other possible options based upon the best available information at the time,” Griesemer said.

A third option would be to have four more precincts vote at the high school, including those at the fire station as well as the elementary schools, Crocker Farm, Fort River and Wildwood.

Martin has said a single polling place will be more efficient and would allow for better contact tracing for COVID-19.

Some residents have wondered if those who don’t want to vote by mail or absentee might be safer if the polls were set up outdoors.

Debra O’Malley, a spokeswoman for the secretary of the commonwealth, said cities and towns are advised against outdoor voting because tents can be impacted by weather, including wind, rain and heat.

Amherst resident John Bonifaz, a constitutional voting rights attorney who cofounded Free Speech for People, said the council has an opportunity to make a better decision.

“The vote on Aug. 10 should be to overturn and vote on a new proposal,” Bonifaz said. “There’s no reason to have all voting at the high school when other locations are viable.”

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