Wallingford considers moving eastside polling place over concerns about access



reporter photo

WALLINGFORD — The Town Council discussed a proposal Tuesday to move the voting district 9 polling place after people complained about parking issues on Election Day last month.

Wallingford Public Schools scheduled a staff professional development session on Election Day at Rock Hill Elementary School, the polling place for district 9.

Town Councilor Craig Fishbein said Tuesday that “I don’t know how many” voters told him they arrived at Rock Hill on Election Day and found many parking spots were taken up by school personnel.

Fishbein said the parking troubles, coupled with the fact that the polling place is not located within the actual boundaries of district 9, prompted him to open a discussion on considering a new location.

District 9 lies on the east side of town and spans almost the entire length of Wallingford, starting in the northeast corner and continuing south along the eastern side of Interstate 91 to Bertini Park and Dayton Pond, almost to the North Haven town line.

Fishbein is also the state representative for the 90th congressional district, which overlaps with part of Wallingford voting district 9.

Parking

According to the town Registrar of Voters office, district 9 has approximately 4,000 registered voters.

The Town Clerk’s office reported 2,050 district 9 residents voted in person on Election Day this year.

Rock Hill has been the polling place for voters in district 9 for more than 20 years, Registrar of Voters Chet Miller said.

School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo said in a Dec. 4 letter to the Town Council that the parking issues at Rock Hill on Election Day were due to an “oversight” and that there won’t be any further professional development activities at Rock Hill on any election days.

“I apologize for any challenges this may have caused,” he said. “I have informed all staff involved in planning professional development of this requirement. I do not foresee any future issues.”

The vehicles of poll workers also take up spots, Miller said Tuesday.

"I apologize for any challenges this may have caused. I have informed all staff involved in planning professional development of this requirement. I do not foresee any future issues."

-School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo

Board of Education member Ray Ross said Tuesday that the school district has a lease agreement with the First United Methodist Church across the street on Old Rock Hill Road, and wondered if that could be utilized as more parking.

Marcus Cooke Park is located across the street from Rock Hill and has a parking lot as well.

Old Rock Hill Road does not have sidewalks, nor is there a crosswalk from the church or park to the school.

Absentee ballots

Councilor Chris Shortell asked Fishbein if he had more than “anecdotal data” to support his proposal to move the polling place.

Fishbein said that district 9 produces an “inordinate number” of absentee ballots that he attributes to the parking situation, he said.

Miller said that while he has not heard many complaints about the parking, “I have had numerous complaints about distance they have to travel.”

Town Clerk Barbara Thompson said Tuesday she has “seen the uptick in Rock Hill absentee ballots” since 2011, around the last redistricting of Wallingford voting districts.

Voters utilizing absentee ballots are supposed to meet certain criteria, such as being out of town on Election Day, but “we’re not the absentee ballot police,” she said.

District 9 and district 5, which votes at Cook Hill Elementary School, are the two voting districts with the largest populations. Thompson said they are “neck in neck” population-wise.

While district 5 had 61 absentee ballots this year, district 9 had 121.

“It’s a little higher than it should be,” she said.

Deterrence caused by inadequate parking isn’t the only factor that may drive the use of absentee ballots.

District 6 has half the population of districts 5 or 9, Thompson said, but had 118 absentee ballots this year. That may be due to supervised balloting at Masonicare and Ashlar Village, she said.

Voter turnout in district 9 was approximately 52 percent this year. Voter turnout in Wallingford overall was 46 percent.

Not within district

District 9 is one of four voting districts in Wallingford that doesn’t have it’s polling location within the boundaries of the district. The polling places are, however, in adjacent districts.

It happens when redistricting, which locally is controlled by the town charter, redraws the lines of the voting districts.

District 1 votes at Pond Hill Elementary School, district 2 votes at Stevens Elementary School and district 3 votes at Moses Y. Beach Elementary School, all of which lie outside the current district lines.

Fishbein proposed moving the district 9 polling location to the North Farms fire station 864 North Farms Road, which is approximately 2.5 miles due north of Rock Hill.

Fire Chief Richard Heidgerd said in a Nov. 27 email to Thompson and Town Council Chairman Vincent Cervoni that he is “not in agreement” with the proposal to use the firehouse as a polling location.

“This is an active staffed fire station … that was not designed for use as a polling location,” he said.

North Farms Volunteer Fire Dept. in Wallingford, Wed. Dec 11, 2019. | Dave Zajac, Record-Journal

There’s insufficient space for polling, unless the fire truck bays are cleared of emergency response vehicles, which would be “disruptive to the fire and EMS mission.”

Miller said Tuesday that polling at fire stations was "horrendous," with poll workers having to inhale the fumes from the station’s vehicles, and was happy when they moved.

More to consider

The Secretary of the State has requirements for polling places, some of which are about building and parking compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

Miller said that the only place within district 9 that meets the state requirements for ADA is the Parks and Recreation facility on Fairfield Boulevard. The facility has even less parking than Rock Hill and likely wouldn’t be closed on Election Day.

One thing to keep in mind while moving a polling place is the implications of federal civil rights laws, said Gabe Rosenberg, Secretary of the State’s office communications director.

The federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 has provisions that cover location of polling places to prevent disenfranchisement of voters.

Rock Hill voters may have to deal with the parking squeeze for another few years if the town waits until after the 2020 census to see how the state congressional districts are drawn before redistricting locally.

That could cause voters even more parking headaches with the national election next year—president, U.S. representative, state representative and state senator are all on the ballot—which will likely bring a larger number of voters out to the polls than this year, Thompson said.

LTakores@record-journal.com

203-317-2212

Twitter: @LCTakores



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