Selectmen, Moderator to Seek Election Solutions
Goodnow suggests re-districting not ideal, advocates for higher wages for poll workers.
Salem Town Moderator Chris Goodnow is expected to take as much time as he needs to address problems posed by the reduction of polling places at the November general election.
Goodnow met with the Board of Selectmen Monday to share his thoughts on how to ensure the "cascading logistical issues" from November aren't repeated.
While Fisk voters were able to wait inside the school to vote, Senior Center voters waited outside in very cold temperatures, especially after the sun went down.
September's primary election was the first with four polling places instead of six. A plan proposed by Town Moderator Chris Goodnow and approved by selectmen in 2011 eliminated Barron School and Town Hall as polling places and moved those voters to the Ingram Senior Center while Soule School voters were moved to Fisk School.
A town meeting vote in 2011 authorized selectmen to explore options for reducing polling locations to better comply with state and federal guidelines.
On Monday Goodnow remarked on the issues with parking and lines at the two locations in question.
Goodnow said the new polling configuration allowed long-standing district lines to stay in place, simply moving all voters from three of the past districts to one of the two different locations.
He admitted a "miscalculation" regarding capacity and the ability to process voters on Election Day, given changes like the new Voter ID law.
"At the end of the day, it didn't work," Goodnow said. "I take full responsibility."
Goodnow said re-districting is not an ideal solution in his mind but it might be inevitable.
"I fear there is not another way to do it but to re-examine it and, straightforwardly, add and go to five polling places," he said.
The physical constraints of the buildings, proximity and travel routes for voters are items Goodnow has to consider when deciding where voters will cast their ballots.
Another issue raised by Goodnow was the compensation for election workers. He said assistant clerks and moderators were not paid for hand-counting ballots before the election to comply with state election law.
Right now ballot clerks are paid, at a minimum, $7.25 an hour. In order to attract more people to work at elections in Salem, Goodnow suggested bumping that to $8.50 an hour.
"Non-economic steps" like splitting shifts and more recruiting efforts will take place to help increase the pool of workers as well, Goodnow said.
Board of Selectmen Chairman Pat Hargreaves said he hoped the existing polling places could be better utilized and there wouldn't be a need to add more.
Selectman Everett McBride, Jr., said he wouldn't support adding a polling place.
"Seven thousand at the Senior Center and 2,800 at Lancaster doesn't work," McBride said.
Goodnow said parking and federal guidelines are a huge concern at Lancaster and simply adding more voters there may not be an option.
Selectman Stephen Campbell urged Goodnow and his fellow board members not to rush into any changes.
"It seems that the problem we have is on the presidential level," Campbell said. "We need to take our time to think out possibilities...Maybe we'll have something on the ballot in March 2014. If we re-district this, we only want to do this once."