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November 5, 2013

Salem to add fifth polling place

Town redistricts after problems on Election Day

SALEM — Selectman have decided to add a fifth polling place to avoid another Election Day nightmare that saw long lines of voters waiting in the dark and dangerous traffic backups.

The board agreed unanimously Monday to ask town moderator Christopher Goodnow to present a plan with an additional polling place within the next 90 days.

But some selectmen were reluctant to come up with the $25,000 Goodnow recommended be spent on the transition. That figure includes the cost of notifying voters, Goodnow said.

They voted, 3-2, against a proposal to have the Budget Committee appropriate the money. Selectmen Stephen Campbell and Patrick Hargreaves opposed the move.

The entire board agreed the town had to do something to prevent the problems that plagued the 2012 presidential election.

That’s when a crush of voters at the Ingram Senior Center led to a wait of more than an hour and a half. The wait at Mary Fisk School was more than hour.

Hundreds of voters were still lined up in the cold outside the senior center when the polls were scheduled to close at 7 p.m. The last votes were cast an hour later.

Many voters expressed their frustration as they stood in the dark, with temperatures dipping into the 30s. Traffic jams outside the center led to extra police officers being called in, and people dodging cars to avoid being struck as they went to vote.

“You had people crossing through the woods to vote,” Hargreaves recalled. “It was a fiasco.”

Goodnow agreed.

“It was a cascade of failures,” he said.

But some voters were especially upset that the town had just completed a redistricting, reducing the number of polling places from six to four.

Handicapped accessibility was limited at some polls and it was difficult to find enough workers to staff them, Goodnow said.

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