In his criticism of the decision to utilize the VFW as the Brattleboro polling place ("Polling station move to VFW is ill-advised," Sept. 2), a recent letter writer raises a few interesting but misdirected or inaccurate statements.
As chairman of the Brattleboro Board of Civil Authority, I find it necessary to respond to these concerns.
The decision to move the polling location was not a haphazard or lightly made decision. It involved several months of discussion, site visits, and conversations with individuals around town by members of the Board of Civil Authority that consists of the elected Justices of the Peace the Town Clerk, and Select Board members. Meetings of the Board were warned and open to the public and the decision was made in open meeting, though none of the Select Board members chose to attend.
The decision was made with a number of factors considered. If, as the letter writer seems to prefer, we voted in a location close to the town's population center, Brattleboro Union High School would immediately be ruled out. Beyond that, BUHS raises a number of critical issues, particularly when voting occurs on a day when school is in session. To begin, setup cannot take place during the day prior to the election as the gymnasium is used by the school. Set up involves not only the erection of the booths, tables, and signage, but also the covering of the gymnasium floor by school maintenance staff (uncovered, the floor would certainly sustain damage).
One other issue related to BUHS facilities access has been the hours during which the polls are open. Setup could not occur on the day prior to voting meaning that it had to occur early on election day. When we voted at BUHS, the polls opened at 9 a.m., not 7 a.m. as we have been voting at the Municipal Building. A return to BUHS would likely mean the hours of voting would be limited to 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. In addition, since the space needs to be ready by the time school starts the following day, the removal of the polling setup and floor covering cannot wait until the next day.
Regardless of location, on all election days most voters arrive at the polls by car. This raises serious problems between 7:30 to 9 a.m. and again between 1:30 to 4 p.m. with normally high volume traffic in and out of the high school and the middle school, school bus parking, arrival and departure, parental drop offs and pickups, and the availability of adjacent parking. If we have noted frustration on the part of voters, it has come from not finding adequate adjacent parking.
The letter writer also raises the issue of changing polling locations. If we look at the history of polling places in Brattleboro, about 25 years ago we had four locations scattered around town and utilizing the elementary schools as a mainstay. The decision was made to consolidate voting in one space in order to reduce staffing and address problems, such as voting machine breakdowns, that often occurred in those locations. This also reduced the number of poll workers required to staff voting, an extremely critical issue. It is my understanding that the letter writer would prefer that polling places were established in many areas of town a proposal that would clearly compound the problems.
Finally, an issue of reciprocity for the use of publicly owned facilities was raised in the commentary. While this may sound mutually beneficial, it raises questions for all parties. Since BUHS is not owned by the town of Brattleboro, does the BUHS Board of Directors, thus all member towns, have rights? Would reciprocity be extended to all member towns in the supervisory union? Does the town reciprocate by providing maintenance services, snow plowing, field grooming? Does the BUHS maintenance staff ignore their normal duties to address town voting needs?
Clearly there is no simple solution, particularly when there is an expectation for a very large voter turnout. As a result, organizations, religious institutions, colleges and employers are being asked to assist in publicizing this "one time only" change in voting venue. The local media was alerted over a month ago and asked to publicize the change. Signs will be posted throughout town and on voting day large signs will be placed at BUHS and the municipal building. Notices will be mailed to each household.
Will people still show up at the wrong location? Most likely! It is worth noting that some voters continue to go to Academy and Oak Grove schools even though they have not been used for decades.
Of course, there is one other alternative. Beginning Sept. 23, voters may either vote in person at the Town Clerk's Office or request an absentee ballot. There are no conditions for this request or action simply appear or contact the office (230 Main Street 802-251-8157 or email firstname.lastname@example.org). Ballots may be voted in person, mailed to the voter, or the voter may take a ballot home.
Given that the letter writer, while contacting the Secretary of State's Office raised questions about Brattleboro voting, he has not spoken with our Town Clerk or contacted the Board of Civil Authority. I invite him and any other concerned voters to do so. I also invite the letter writer or anyone else concerned with the change to observe the set up of the polls on the day before voting occurs and to volunteer to serve as a poll worker on Election Day when he can witness the preparation, organization and operation of the polls.
Elliott Greenblott is the Chairman of the Brattleboro Board of Civil Authority. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.