It’s hard to motivate people to vote in routine elections, but when a Presidential election or primary arrives, it’s a given that large numbers of voters will turn out to cast their ballots.
What those voters shouldn’t have to deal with are traffic jams, whether caused by the number of people converging on the polls at once, or competing traffic from school buses and parents picking up their kids.
Londonderry has known for years that it has traffic problems with access to its sole polling place, the Londonderry High School gym. The Town population has grown; its polling place has not.
This year that was compounded by problems with handicap parking, with drivers of vehicles with handicapped signage forced to park far away from the school door and in some instances having to traipse across snowbanks and unshoveled paths to exercise their civic duty. That needs to be fixed before the Presidential election in November, regardless of whether it snows then or not.
Londonderry is far from the only community to have accessibility problems. Derry has three polling places, and most of its problems were at Gilbert H. Hood Middle School, where end-of-school-day routine congestion added to congestion caused by voters trying to find a place to park.
And vehicles backed up on town streets during the evening commute in Hampstead, where the police chief himself came out to help direct traffic.
But as has been the case in the past – it’s not new information – traffic and parking problems were at the forefront in Londonderry, and it will be interesting to hear the results of a planned debriefing about the matter. Between gridlock on Mammoth Road and complaints from seniors about parking, something needs to change – and there’s no respite in sight, as the population in Londonderry is increasing, not decreasing.
The Town Charter says the Town Council can establish an additional polling location, and that should be the direction to go without delay. In elections where turnout is low, one polling place could continue to operate, but for big national elections, that is no longer the answer for Londonderry. And while that will require a major educational effort to make sure residents know where to vote, it’s a good and necessary alternative.
Multiple polling places won’t solve all traffic problems, but they’re a big step in the right direction – and making Election Day a school holiday would help as well.
But the mistake of not shoveling pathways from outlying parking places should never happen again. With complaints made during the election, the hard-to-reach parking places should have been cleared out when the problem was made known during the day.
And now that we know the problems, there are nine months to come up with solutions.