Board Agrees to Use MHS to Vote in November Only
School Board majority says JMUES adequate for remaining three elections.
It's been an election-heavy year with a lot of polling location changes and there is about to be one more.
Following a compromise vote at the Merrimack School Board meeting Monday night, voters in November will be headed to Merrimack High School as a single polling location to cast their ballot for president, a new governor and all the other state races that are part of the general election in November.
The School Board on Monday considered three options, two of which were put to votes, in an attempt to work with the Town Council and Town Moderator who requested to have the high school become the town's new sole polling location.
What ultimately passed was an agreement to hold the November general election every two years at Merrimack High School, while keeping the remaining three elections – the state primary, the presidential primary and the annual town/school meetings at James Mastricola Upper Elementary School, also as a single-polling location.
School Board Chairman Chris Ortega prefaced the discussion by correcting some statements made during a joint meeting with the Town Council two weeks ago when it was suggested that the school board was forgetting that the buildings are owned by the residents of town.
“We use the schools for taxpayers purposes,” Ortega said. “There's a list of at least 40 groups who have used the school over the last year.”
More than 3,800 events were held on school property in the last year, he said, that were not school events. Ortega said the board understands who the buildings belong to, but their number-one task is to make sure the students of Merrimack are getting the best education possible.
Shannon Barnes, who voted in the minority with George Markwell last December to use the high school as a single-polling location for all town elections, when it was first brought to the school board, voted Monday only in favor of the version that holds one election at the high school. She said based on the historical data provided to the board by Moderator Lynn Christensen, JMUES appears to be able to handle the traffic of the majority of the elections, but agreed that it would pose a problem for the presidential election, which has turned out roughly 15,000 voters in past years. With JMUES as the polling location for most elections, school can be held on election day with some interruptions to the school day.
At the high school, “I think its an all or nothing proposition,” she said.
In order to provide parking to voters at the high school on election days, school will have to be closed.
The first motion of the night came from Markwell who moved that the high school be used as a single-polling location for all elections. It never received a second.
Andy Schneider then moved to hold the November general election and the April town and school elections at the high school, with the two primaries, historically low-turnout elections, at JMUES.
"I think the moderator was clear that we could be in compliance with the state for the number of voting booths whether we had it at JMUES or the high school,” Schneider said. “But what I also heard was concern about the traffic flow.”
Along those lines, Schneider said that while data shows moderate numbers at the April election, it's a much lengthier process to vote, as people are filling out two ballots, sometimes with a number of questions, and the fact that it's a longer process could impede traffic flow on a contentious year.
Christensen provided the school board with some historical numbers from recent elections to give them an idea of turnout.
Scheider said a November election is generally the highest turnout, especially every four years with a presidential ballot. Then the town and school elections, depending on the year, can be either very low or moderate in terms of numbers of voters based on what kind of proposals are on the ballot. The presidential and state primaries generally turn out the fewest numbers of voters, and, as evidenced by last week's primary, all votes can be cast a JMUES with school in session with relatively low complications.
That motion failed 2-3 with Vice Chairman Davis Powell, Ortega, and Barnes in opposition.
Last came the motion suggested by Ortega and moved by Barnes to hold just the November election at the high school. It passed 4-1 with Markwell in opposition.
Most of the board agreed that this plan would allow the largest election to be handled in the best location and the remaining elections could be conducted with school in session, making it the least difficult option to work the school calendar around.
Ortega said he plans to approach Town Council Chairman Tom Mahon to discuss the next issue of a protective floor covering for the gym floors, an item that was part of the school budget for 2012-13 but was nixed when the board voted against using the high school to vote back in December. The price for the cover and a mechanism to unroll it, was going to cost $11,500 and the proposal at the time was to split the cost with the town.
When the school first voted not to approve the single-polling site request in December, the town had three polling locations. After the presidential primary, the Town Council voted to shut down St. James United Methodist Church's voting site because of safety and compliance issues.
Following the April town and school elections, Christensen approached the Town Council again to recommend the closure of St. John Neumann Church's polling site an go to one, preferably at the high school.