Talks Continue on Effort to Take Voting Out of City Schools

City election officials say it's impractical to move all the precincts out of the city's schools, but they did suggest a handful of changes to relocate to nearby churches and temples.

Voters at Higgins Middle School. Credit: File photo
Voters at Higgins Middle School. Credit: File photo

This much is clear: if there are any polls that change locations in Peabody, it won't be to supermarkets. Local election officials have now suggested some alternative sites to city schools -- either nearby churches or temples. 

The School Committee, citing a variety of safety concerns for students and disruption to the school day, wanted to look at possibly removing polling sites from city schools and consider alternative locations, such as the senior center, churches and supermarkets. There are currently 10 of the city's 19 precincts located in seven schools.

Committee member Brandi Carpenter raised the issue again this summer and pointed to Worcester as an example.

The city has moved many of its polls to supermarkets. Carpenter argued Worcester and other cities made changes out of concerns for student safety and convenience for voters and it appeared to be working.

Carpenter's concerns were echoed by parents, teachers and elementary school principals. The only school board member who opposed the effort was Beverley Griffin Dunne, who said changes could be made in how the public accesses the schools on Election Day instead.

Dunne also noted schools, as municipal buildings, are easier and more accessible to use as polling sites. That point of view is shared by local election officials.

Former City Clerk Natalie Maga even sounded off on the subject this summer via a letter to the editor entitled: "Don't ban voting in schools!"

The Peabody Board of Registrars, of which current City Clerk Tim Spanos is a member, has now submitted a detailed response to the School Committee as well as an assessment of each precinct and the viability of relocating sites.

The board's overall stance is that it's impractical to relocate all the precincts, but some changes could be made.

According to board chair Judith Blodgett, moving all 10 sites would affect more than 18,000 voters and cost up to $10,000. In a typical election year, the school gymnasiums are only tied up for one day and the schools have a greater police presence than at any other time during the school year.

Blodgett outlined the framework under which polling sites are selected and reviewed, which considers location, convenience to voters, handicap accessibility, safety, parking, long-term use, cost, efficiency, etc.

She noted the board does not support utilizing private, for-profit facilities that would just give those businesses more customers in the form of voters and that the board regularly assesses polling sites for all of the aforementioned concerns.

"After considering the above factors, the board feels that a relocation effort of this magnitude is an impractical solution to the safety concerns raised by the School Committee. Rather, a more reasonable solution is to consider a modified relocation plan accompanied by an assessment of the remaining polling locations in question, to develop a targeted action plan that will provide assurance that students and staff are safe," wrote Blodgett.

She then outlined a handful of possible changes:

  • Ward 4 Precinct 3 -- Move from Peabody Veterans Memorial High School to Temple Beth Shalom if the temple is amenable to hosting a voting precinct
  • Ward 5 Precinct 1 -- Move from Kiley School to Temple Ner Tamid, if the Temple is amenable to hosting a precinct
  • Ward 5 Precinct 3 -- Move from McCarthy School to either the Kiley School (if 5-1 moves to Temple Ner Tamid) or West Congregational Church, if the church is amenable to hosting a voting precinct
  • Ward 6 Precinct 1 -- Move from West Memorial School to either West Congregational Church or to the Community Covenant Church, if the churches are amenable to hosting a voting precinct

Blodgett noted the board worked with school administrators and committee members in 2009 to address safety concerns and a made a number of changes for signage and traffic flow. Classes were also canceled on Election Day and a professional development day was scheduled instead. She said that's an option for the September primary as well.

This past election cycle was a notable exception with four special elections (primaries and finals) earlier this year, but in a regular year, only the September primary sends voters to the schools while classes are in session.

"We respectfully ask the School Committee to re-evaluate their position on this matter, and consider a more balanced solution that would satisfy the greatest number of people," Blodgett wrote.

"Just as we respect the School Committee for wanting to provide the safest environment for all students and staff, we would hope that the School Committee respects the position of the board for wanting to provide an equally safe and fair voting environment for all citizens of the city," she said.

Another recourse left to the School Committee, if it wishes to pursue it, is to simply deny access to the schools for voting purposes. Committee members indicated they didn't want to force the issue that way, but City Solicitor Michael Smerczynski did confirm for the board that was an option.

Even so, the final decision to move a polling site is up to the City Council. The registrars only make suggestions to the council, which then votes yea or nay.

Mayor Ted Bettencourt, who chairs the School Committee, had suggested all three city boards sit down together to discuss the issue, but that hasn't happened yet.

The registrars' letter has been sent to the School Committee for discussion and is scheduled to be taken up at Tuesday's meeting.

These are the current 10 precincts at seven schools:

  • Welch School, 50 Swampscott Ave., Precinct 2-1, 2-2
  • South School, 16 Maple St., Precinct 2-3
  • Higgins Middle School, 1 King Street Ext., Precincts 4-1, 4-2
  • Peabody High School, 485 Lowell St., Precinct 4-3
  • McCarthy School, 76 Lake St., Precinct 5-3
  • West School, 15 Bow St., Precinct 6-1
  • Burke School, 127 Birch St., Precincts 6-2, 6-3
Kathleen October 07, 2013 at 10:27 AM
Don't know if it is me just missing something here or Ms. Carpenter being out of the loop, but both Temple Beth Shalom and the West Congregational Church run preschools. If she and her fellow supporters on the school committee as well as election officials are concerned about children's safety during elections, then why are they proposing these venues as alternative voting sites? What about the safety of the 4 and 5 year olds who attend preschool at these locations? Makes no sense to me!
Karl October 07, 2013 at 02:55 PM
Can somebody show me an incident caused by allowing voting in the schools that has resulted in any kind of danger to children? Voting in the schools has been the norm for as long as I can remember and I can't think of any problems that this has caused except in the minds of Ms. Carpenter and company. Enough with this foolishness. Besides, providing polling places is the government's responsibility, not business, and certainly not churches and temples. If those same churches and temples were sticking their noses in the schools you would all be screaming bloody murder. Now that they are a convenient possible end to your means, suddenly its ok to mix the two.
Johnny D October 07, 2013 at 03:43 PM
Everyone who works with these kids needs to have a CORI background check performed...but on this day you want to grant any weirdo off the street (pedophiles, sex offenders) access to our children. Why even CORI the teachers, bus drivers or cafeteria workers then??? Let's not wait until something happens Karl, for once our city needs to be PROactive instead of REactive. How many school shootings were there before Columbine? You would be the first on here complaining if, God forbid, something happened in one of these schools as a result of this negligence. Sorry, but that is "ridiculous."
Michelle October 07, 2013 at 09:11 PM
Yes, everyone who WORKS with kids is required to have a CORI check. Voting areas are separated, most people vote before or after school hours, and everyone who votes checks in and out. Not exactly a prime sex offender target. Not great for the one-on-one access most pedophiles try to get. Finally, Columbine was kids shooting kids. I don't think it's relevant here.
Johnny D October 07, 2013 at 09:26 PM
It is the perfect opportunity for someone to wander around the building under the pretense of "voting." Any other day of the year this person would be stopped, questioned and deemed suspicious. Do you really think someone with these motives is going to sign in??? And my point about Columbine (which obviously flew right over your head) is that, until that happened, no one was prepared to deal with it BECAUSE IT HAD NOT HAPPENED BEFORE. Now we have lock down drills etc as a REaction to the tragedy. If people were PROactive a couple of lives may have been saved. Do you want Peabody to be the city we look at in 10 years, saying "boy if they only could have foreseen having strangers wandering around a school could have posed a danger!"
Christina October 08, 2013 at 10:18 AM
Remember the elderly man that plowed through a Boston area school on voting day, and a child was killed. Do we really want that to happen here? Having strangers going in and out of the school is so distracting to the students and dangerous as well. Other communities have pulled voting out of their schools, we can do the same here. The stickler seems to be finding a safe place for Ward 5 and 6. Does the voting place have to be in the Ward? If not, Route 1 has plenty of large open storefronts, whose owners would not mind being paid a small rental fee for hosting the voting.
John Castelluccio (Editor) October 08, 2013 at 11:37 AM
Christina, I believe a polling site can be located in an adjacent precinct, which is how the city has doubled up at several of the voting locations now.
Kathleen October 08, 2013 at 12:01 PM
The amount of time and energy that is being expended on this is ridiculous in my humble opinion. The simple solution is to just close the schools on election days and use them as teacher professional days. They only happen once or twice every 2 to 4 years and the teachers have professional days each year. There are many more pressing issues to deal with (such as lagging MCAS & SAT scores). This is why nothing ever gets done in Peabody...
mom October 08, 2013 at 04:50 PM
Johnny D no one can just wonder around the schools on election day the polling area is blocked off. It is the principals job to be sure the school is safe. If that means staying at the front all day then they do that, but since the halls have doors they close them so voters arnt tempted to wonder. You do know the CORI just means they havent been caught yet, right? You are CORIed if you are working around the kids not to enter the school. Christina you raised several issues. 1) yes the polling boths have to be convenient for the voters in that ward so they are able to vote. You dont want to make it hard for those that want to vote. What if you dont drive how would you be able to vote if you need to get to a storefront? 2) Why should i pay more taxes to 'rent' a storefront when i already pay for the schools that are both available for use and convient for voters? 3) We have not not had any accidents on voting day so clearly we are doing something right. I agree with Kathleen, this is a false time issue. It makes the sc look like they are doing something and take the focus off the MCAS scores.
Johnny D October 08, 2013 at 05:07 PM
Nothing I can say will change the mind of anyone on this board...and vice versa. I will leave you with this: Nothing is more important than the safety of our children...not even MCAS scores.
mom October 08, 2013 at 09:25 PM
But giving a faulse sence of saftly does no one any good. And for the record I do not care what the MCAS scores are. I care if the kids are learning what is need to get them through high school & college.
Karl October 09, 2013 at 09:29 AM
Christina, unfortunately an accident like the one you describe could happen on a regular school day with someone picking up a child at school. Should we ban cars within a certain distance of the school? Also, if you want to ban voting at the schools out of fear of what could happen, then maybe we should also ban all other activities that take place in schools, i.e. sporting events, concerts, plays, etc. Using the logic presented here, any of those events provide the same opportunities for someone looking to do harm.
Johnny D October 09, 2013 at 02:45 PM
We all know, especially in Peabody voting day might as well be called "senior citizen day." Nothing against our elderly residents, but it is the one day of the year they rip the car cover off of the old Cadillac and go for a drive. Unfortunately, between declining eyesight and reaction time, this makes for a very dangerous commute. So, until the state decides it is time to routinely test elderly drivers, voting day will always be a dangerous adventure.
mom October 09, 2013 at 04:05 PM
The fact is that anyone over the age of 50 will routinely vote. They were raised that way. Not all seniors have sight issues either. Driving in the state is still a privilege not a right so the RMV can require any drive that has had a accident to submite to an eye test if they feel it was the reason for the accident. They can also take a license away on those grounds. would voting day be any different than say Saturday mornings at stop & shop? All of these are issues to look at but should in no way be the reason to move the voting polls. Its apples & oranges
Johnny D October 09, 2013 at 04:28 PM
If you really don't think there are more elderly drivers out on voting day than you are either working from home or out of your mind.
mom October 09, 2013 at 04:46 PM
Johnny their may be more but how many more is also importient. I am in fact at the polls on every election & with kids in elementry and middle school I see the turnout. I will say what i have seen in the last 12 years is very well run. Even in ward 2 that has the DD down the street from a school the schools run a tight ship and the kids are watched. This is an overreaction, just like when the kids were not allowed to use the playgrounds for months because one kid got hurt & the city was afraid of being sued!
Bjean October 09, 2013 at 08:28 PM
I say kudos to Ms Carpenter for caring about the Peabody kuds safety. All the elderly people come out amd vote and I for one do not want then plowing down my kids with their cadillacs.
Karl October 11, 2013 at 03:16 PM
Bjean, that is a completely assinine statement.


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