The town is requiring voters in Precinct 13 to use a polling station at for at least the next three elections despite the objections of Washington Square neighbors who want to vote at the nearby .
The decision by the Board of Selectmen last night ended a long dispute that had pitted Washington Square residents on the eastern end of the long, narrow precinct against those on the western end. Some billed Newbury College, which is located toward the geographic center of the precinct, as a compromise, while others argued that it was convenient to no one.
“Where we cite polling places and how easy we make it to vote is a town-wide issue,” said Andrew Fischer, a Town Meeting member from Precinct 13. “It’s an issue about democracy.”
The debate was sparked last summer after Precinct 12 and 13 voters that their polling place would be displaced by renovations at the , which normal hosts both precincts, for several elections. Officials have avoided any problem so far by re-opening the school on election and primary days.
But officials say construction on the site now makes it impossible for the town to set up a polling station there for at least three elections, including a presidential primary. They said they looked at a variety of locations that would be convenient to all voters in the precincts but found no options that would please everyone.
“They’re all workable,” said Town Clerk Pat Ward. “They all have varying degrees of difficulties in terms of parking and traffic.”
Precinct 12 was temporarily relocated to Brookline High School last night with little opposition, but the Precinct 13 move has sparked a furor among dedicated voters for several months. Neighbors on both side of the debate insisted that it was not about one side of the precinct versus another, but everyone who spoke at a Selectmen’s hearing last night seemed to favor the location closes to them.
Precinct 13 presents a particular challenge to the Town Clerk’s Office because it stretches for nearly two miles along Brookline’s border with Brighton and Newton and includes several very different neighborhoods served by different transit lines.
The , while close to those living near Route 9, would be nearly impossible for Washington Square residents to reach by public transportation. That lead many residents in densely populated Washington Square to insist that the polling station should be moved to the Driscoll School, which they claimed was at the “demographic center” of the precinct despite being at the extreme eastern end.
“Putting in it in the center geographically superficially seems fair. It is not fair because it moves it away from the majority of voters,” said Fischer, who lives on Bartlett Crescent a few blocks from the Driscoll School
Others, however, argued that Driscoll offered little parking for voters who choose to drive there and was at least a half mile from the D Line. Some noted that it would be a two-mile drive for those living at the Route 9 end of the precinct.
“It really is pretty far from a substantial part of the precinct,” said Lee Selwyn, a Town Meeting member who lives on Reservoir Road near Route 9. “The C line really doesn’t do much good for people at the western end of the precinct.”
Ward, the town clerk, said Newbury College had offered to allow poll worker to operate out of its facilities and would allow voters to use its shuttle bus, which runs every 10 minutes between Cleveland Circle, where both D and C line stations are located, and the school. But some neighbors saw the shuttle as proof that the college would not work as a polling station.
“First of all, if you need a shuttle bus maybe it’s not such a great location,” said Nancy Mims, who lives on Salisbury Road near the Driscoll School
Neighbors on both side of the debate insisted that the majority of voters lived closest to their chosen location, but Selectmen Dick Benka presented data from the town’s Geographic Information System Department that showed that Newbury College was actually closest to the greatest number of registered and active voters.
Benka said locating the polling station at Driscoll would force around 19 percent of registered voters to travel more than a mile to vote, while only around 3 percent of voters would have to travel more than a mile to get to the college.
Among voters who actually show up at the polls, 38 percent would be located more than a mile from Driscoll, while around 2 percent would be more than a mile from the college.
But in the end the issue seemed to come down to a question of parking for most selectmen.
“I am very troubled by the extreme difficulty of parking around the Driscoll School and I appreciate that there’s a stalwart contingent that comes on foot,” said Selectwoman Nancy Daly. “I think if you get over there and you can’t find any parking around, that is going to discourage, I think, the majority of people who vote who come by car.”
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