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Not enough parking, no phone, privacy issues were pointed out as reasons why the Buchanan Center is a poor choice for a poling place.
Why would children be afraid of grown-ups coming to their school to vote?
This question was put to the Town Council at its Oct. 27 meeting, during the time aside for public comments.
Last year, the Voting District 3 polling place was moved from Southeast Elementary School to the meeting hall of the Mansfield Library, known as the Buchanan Center.
Town resident Hal Abramson, who raised the question about the polling place switch, said he’s been told that the school is no longer used for voting because administrators believe children are afraid of lots of “strangers” coming into their school.
“That makes no sense to me… the children are afraid of people voting?” said Abramson, who is also a member of the Friends of the Mansfield Library.
“We’re not strangers… we live here… they don’t make that point to the children,” he said.
And he noted that having the polling place in the school is a wonderful opportunity for students to learn a civics lesson.
He criticized moving the polling place to a spot with much less parking, which will likely become a real problem this year because of the “wonderful madness” that is expected in this year’s Presidential election.
The library has about 50 parking spaces.
Town Manager Matt Hart said the Board of Education “advocated for some years for the change.” And when the town looked for a new polling location, the Buchanan Center seemed the most convenient for people voting in that district.
Town Clerk Mary Stanton said school officials have been concerned about voters driving in and out of Southeast Elementary School’s parking lot while parents are dropping off/picking up children, or when school buses are arriving and departing.
She added that school officials were once asked to consider closing school on election day and that the idea was not received well.
Stanton said that arrangements have been made that will free up parking and hopefully keep traffic snarls to a minimum. All library staff will park offsite, poll workers will be shuttled to the Buchanan Center, and parents involved in the PTO sale will be asked drop off their baked goods and then park at Southeast Elementary School. Police also will be on duty to help direct traffic, she said.
Carol Pellegrine, who has worked as a town election official for many years, said there are many problems with the Buchanan center as a polling place, besides inadequate parking, such as privacy.
The meeting room, “doesn’t accommodate the size of the privacy booths… We will be setting up 10 to 13 privacy booths and you have to allow enough room in between so that people do feel they have privacy,” she said.
And there’s no phone for the election workers. Election officials would have to ask to use the library director’s phone if they need to contact the registrars of voters – for example, if someone claims they should be on the voters’ list.
Likewise, if someone working the polls has an incoming call, a library employee would have to come back to the Buchanan Center to let them know they have a call. And the library closes before the polls do, Pellegrine noted.
In order to avoid this hassle, election workers will use their personal cell phones, she said.
If there are concerns about children’s safety, she added, why not schedule a teachers’ in-service day on Election day so that there are no children in the school.
Council member Leigh Duffy commented that when she voted at Southeast Elementary, she would take her child out of class to come to the voting booth with her, as an educational experience – and teachers not only didn’t mind, they encouraged it.
Mayor Betsy Paterson pointed out that it’s too late to make a change this year.
The council did agree to bring the issue to the table for discussion with the school board and the registrars of voters – who are the ones authorized to make the final decision.
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