Selectmen Move Polling Locations for Four Precincts to Falmouth High School
By: CHRISTOPHER KAZARIAN, February 12, 2014
Falmouth selectmen opted to move the voting locations of four precincts to Falmouth High School, a decision that will go into effect at the next election in May.
In the process the board and the public had some harsh words for the Falmouth School Committee, which voted in November to not allow residents to vote at the Teaticket Elementary School (Precinct Three), the East Falmouth Elementary School (Precinct Four) and the Morse Pond School (Precinct Six), citing safety as a primary reason.
On Monday evening several selectmen and residents questioned the rationale of that decision, starting with selectman Douglas H. Jones, who expressed his disappointment in the school committee’s vote. “I am very sad we are not going to have voting in the elementary schools,” he said, arguing that it serves as an example to students of why voting is important.
In researching the subject, he said, he has not seen any instances of where elections held in schools across the country have compromised the safety of children. “I wish we could have voting in the schools because I think it is an important educational tool for our students,” Mr. Jones said, leading to applause from those attending.
Selectman Mary (Pat) Flynn agreed with Mr. Jones, noting that each precinct has at least one police officer manning the polls and in some cases two. “There is significant protection in my mind,” she said. “It is disappointing that we have to change these voting locations.”
She warned that it could have an impact on not only how people vote, but if they vote.
Still, town clerk Michael C. Palmer said the town had little choice because of the school committee’s decision in November. He proposed moving Precinct Three, Precinct Four, Precinct Six and Precinct Nine (Police Athletic Activities League (PAL) of Cape Cod) all to the gymnasium at Falmouth High School.
He explained that with the possibility of the PAL building being sold, he wanted to be proactive as a new owner may not allow voting to take place there.
He also said that the high school’s principal, Joseph V. Driscoll, was receptive to allowing elections to be held in the gymnasium. As part of the plan voters would use the parking lot in front of the school, providing roughly 125 spaces for those casting ballots. Teachers and students would be asked to park their cars either behind the school or to the side of it, near the tennis courts.
Mr. Palmer stressed that he wanted to make this transition as seamless as possible, saying that “we don’t want to put up any barriers to voting” in an effort to encourage as many residents to vote as possible.
New Location More Convenient
In some cases, he said, the new location would be more convenient to voters. He said the farthest anyone would have to travel to get to the high school is roughly 4.5 miles.
Mr. Palmer acknowledged there will be some resistance to change, but noted that polling places have been moved successfully in the past. That has included moving Precinct Five from the North Falmouth Elementary School to the North Falmouth Congregational Church and Precinct Seven from the East Falmouth Fire Station to the Waquoit Congregational Church hall.
And other communities, such as Mashpee, he said, vote at only one location and “it operates pretty smoothly.”
Selectman Rebecca Moffitt was the only person to express support for the school committee’s decision, although she did admit, “I think it is a very sad situation that we had to do this.”
You are instilling in young children that voters are evil.
She said this was strictly about the safety of the children.
“You are implying that voters are dangerous people,” Mr. Palmer said.
“It is not the voters,” Ms. Moffitt replied.
Chairman Brent V.W. Putnam asked how the public would be notified of the change. Mr. Palmer said he would send postcards to every registered voter in the four precincts being moved and do additional outreach through the newspapers and Falmouth Community Television, and may return to a board meeting in the future to alert the public.
He also hoped to use an electronic display sign as another means to alert voters closer to the next election.
Before the board voted unanimously to support Mr. Palmer’s proposal, a few residents voiced their anger with the school committee. “You are instilling in young children that voters are evil,” Marc P. Finneran of Trotting Park Road, Teaticket, said. “The people who vote are the decent people in this community. I hate to use the word disgraceful, but I think that is what this decision was.”
“You can take that up with the school committee,” Mr. Putnam said, shortly before he offered in his own opinion on the subject. He argued decisions such as this, which are intended to protect the safety of citizens, run contrary to the freedoms this country was founded on.