Is One Polling Station Enough for Seekonk?
All Seekonk voting will take place at the high school. Selectman Gary Sagar says there should be two stations.
If you plan to vote Tuesday in Seekonk, prepare to wait in a long line. Voter turnout in the last presidential election exceeded 75 percent, with more than 7,200 people casting ballots. But in that election four years ago, there were four polling stations. This year, all voting will take place at Seekonk High School. Selectman Gary Sagar says that could be a problem.
Sagar has long supported having two polling locations in Seekonk. He raised the issue at the recent Board of Selectmen meeting after Selectman David Parker encouraged residents to register absentee to avoid lines.
"This will be an absolute, great test to see how well one polling place does," he said. "I hope a lot of people aren't discouraged because they can't get into the parking lot at the high school."
An item on the agenda for the selectmen meeting on Wednesday includes a proposal from Sagar for the town to have two polling locations for all future elections. Town Clerk Jan Parker, who is married to Selectman Parker, said this was not needed.
"It is the trend to use one polling place because it saves money," said Jan Parker in a recent interview with Seekonk Patch. "And also, it's much more efficient. An example is if someone comes to the wrong polling place, you just have to move them over in the line rather than tell them to go to a different location."
Selectmen voted in 2009 to reduce the number of locations as a cost-saving method recommended by Jan Parker. Voter turnout is not high in Seekonk for most elections. Nearly 27 percent of voters participated in the last regular town election, and that was considered a success. So this will be the first election in which the system will be tested.
Seekonk is not unique with the one-station policy. This is also being done Tuesday in the nearby towns of Norton, Berkley, Dighton, Mansfield and Swansea. The neighboring town of Rehoboth, which has a similar-sized population to Seekonk, has three voting locations.
Jan Parker told Patch there will be long lines for voting, but that is because there is a large ballot. She said the Secretary of State's office in Boston has told her not to discourage people from voting absentee as a way to reduce lines on Election Day. She said she told her husband to talk about the absentee option during selectmen meetings.
If the state government is telling municipal clerk's not to discourage all residents from voting absentee, it is going against what is stated in the Massachusetts General Laws. Chapter 54, Section 86 states residents can vote absentee if they plan to be away on Election Day, have physical disabilities or religious beliefs that prevent them from going to the polls. The section does not specifically state people who do not meet those criteria cannot vote absentee.
Sagar said the town should not be encouraging people to vote absentee unless they meet one of the three criteria.
"Massachusetts general law is very specific as to the reasons why you can [vote absentee]," Sagar said. "And if we don't have the proper resources for people to vote, then that's why I suggested we have two polling stations."
How many polling stations should there be in Seekonk? Vote on our poll question and share your thoughts in the comment section.