After voter turnout to the General Election earlier this month generated significant vehicular traffic and long lines at the polls, residents are asking if it’s time to consider another polling location to accommodate crowds in the Presidential Election.
“The complaints I personally received are way out of bounds and we’ve got to do something about it,” Town Council Vice Chairman Jim Butler said during a Nov. 15 Budget Workshop. “Whatever we do we have to correct the problem, and we have an election coming up in March.”
Town Manager Kevin Smith said he and Police Chief William Hart have already started talking with Superintendent Nate Greenberg about whether or not school should be scheduled the day of the Presidential Election.
“We will be looking at everything from adding a police detail outside to help direct traffic, to changing the traffic pattern in and out of the high school, to not having school that day, to having another polling location,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of things we need to look at, but one thing we can’t do is have the status quo, because it’s absolutely unbearable.”
“That’s outside; inside, we want to make sure we staff it properly, and if we have to fund it, let’s fund it,” Butler said.
Londonderry is the second largest community in the state with only one polling location – the largest is Merrimack, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.
Supervisor of the Checklist Geraldine Van Grevenhof said the Town discussed adding a polling location about a decade ago, but ultimately couldn’t identify another facility that would be large enough and provide appropriate parking accommodations.
“Personally, I like voting where it is. I just don’t know how feasible it would be to do anything else,” she said.
In addition to the challenge of finding another venue that could accommodate Election Day crowds and offer enough parking, Town Moderator Cindi Rice Conley said staffing another polling location would be difficult and supplying another polling location would be very expensive.
“Right now we have two ballot machines. I would recommend buying two additional machines if we had another location so that both locations would have a backup,” she said.
“I just don’t think it’s feasible at this point,” she said. “Right now, I don’t recommend it.”
Conley said she didn’t hear as many complaints after the State’s General Election as she did after the September State Primary.
“If we had this issue every election, I’d say let’s sit down and consider it seriously. If we could have school out, that would be helpful. School won’t be in session for the Presidential Election in 2016, so that will help,” she said.
Fire Battalion Chief Jim Roger said in terms of safety and crowd control, he is confident the Fire Department and Police Department are always adequately prepared for the large crowds on Election Day.
“We always have a plan and good communication between the agencies so if something happens, we are prepared,” he said, noting the high school gym is built to accommodate very large crowds.”
During the Nov. 4 election, Roger said the primary entrance emergency personnel would have used during an event was always clear despite the congestion and traffic.
Additionally, the department held briefings over the course of the day to review their planned response for various situations that could arise.
“Traffic is an issue at the national elections and we’ve wrestled with it,” Police Chief William Hart said. “I know the political leadership and Town Manager are trying to come up with ways to effectively address the times when there’s congestion. I think it speaks well of Londonderry that so many people feel it’s important to exercise their right to vote.”