Two city polling locations slated for change by fall elections

Two city polling locations slated for change by fall elections

WOONSOCKET - Officials from the state Board of Elections have been working for the past year to improve the voter experience in Rhode Island, and change is coming for two city polling places currently located in elderly high rises.

The polling places at John F. Kennedy Manor and Park View Manor do not have enough parking for voters, according to a recent study by the state board. The rooms where voters cast their ballots in the two buildings, they say, are also too small.

The work to update the city's polling places is part of a larger statewide effort to examine around 400 polling locations across Rhode Island. The project began last year, after the Oversight Committee for the state House of Representatives did a statewide study of the 2012 elections. Committee members heard testimony from advocacy groups, representatives from the Board of Elections, the Secretary of State Office, and local boards of canvassers over the course of several hearings.

"The 2012 elections were, for most Rhode Islanders, a smooth process," Rep. Michael Marcello explained in a letter introducing the committee's findings. "But for some, there were excessively long waits at the polls. Every registered voter should have the opportunity to cast a ballot without any unreasonable barriers, no matter where they live in the state."

The study, completed in April of last year, resulted in a 40 page report including 19 recommendations for change

Those changes include hiring more technicians and recruiting more poll workers, and adding on a process to certify those workers, who will now take a written test. The workers, they said, must also be trained to contact the local board of canvassers when voter lines become too long, and to properly mark a 50 foot "no campaigning" zone outside of all polling places. The committee also recommended additional training for local clerks, to ensure there are less mistakes in voter registration.

At the locations themselves, state officials asked the board to check that there was adequate parking, signage and lighting. "The board has acted on all or most of the recommendations," said Bob Kando, executive director for the Board of Elections.

The report also noted that in 2012, there were errors in the ballot process for the first time, when West Warwick precinct 3805 received ballots destined for Woonsocket 3905, along with a few other delivery errors.

"It will not happen again," the document states.

Kando said his office is in the process of completing the final work to address the recommendations, and that decisions regarding potential changes to polling places will be made over the next several months.

"We want to implement all of the recommendations by next election," Kando said.

Woonsocket Board of Canvassers Manager Estelle Corriveau said she has not yet been informed about the potential changes.

Park View, she said, is however, the largest polling location in the city with 3,000 registered voters, although less than 200 of those served are residents at the facility. Kennedy Manor also serves a large portion of the city's ballot casters, with 1,553 registered voters for the precinct and only a few hundred residents.

Asked if she has received complaints about parking or lines at the two polling spots, Corriveau said "not from voters, but I don't think the state likes it."

New polling places could be established to handle the overflow, Kando said, but the board has not ruled out the possibility of closing the two locations entirely.

"There are several alternatives we are looking at, including splitting the precinct or moving out," Kando said.

The upcoming special election to fill Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt's former seat in the House, representing District 49, will not be affected by the changes. Only the four sites within the district will be open including both Kennedy, at 547 Clinton St., and Park View, at 218 Pond St., along with Crepeau Court at 100 Front St. and Fairmont Heights, 525 Second Ave. Democrat Michael Morin, who defeated two contenders in a primary election last month, will run unopposed in Feb. 25.