Council Holds Roundtable to Examine Voting

Last night the Cambridge City Council took a break from its normal order of business to hold a roundtable with the Elections Commission to discuss councilors’ concerns with the voting process.

Election Commissioner Polyxane S. Cobb answered hypothetical questions councilors posed regarding the designation of a voter as inactive and the process for requesting an absentee ballot.

“Don’t tell him too much,” said Mayor David P. Maher, winking at the Election Commission after Councilor Kenneth E. Reeves’ 72 asked the commissioners to explain the process for accessing information about the number of absentee ballots requested.

The Election Commission is also responsible for redrawing the precinct lines within the city of Cambridge. Commissioners indicated that Cambridge has seen an increase of 3,800 voters since the precincts were last examined­­, which is correlated with a spur of residential development.

Regulations require that the Commission is not  break up minority enclaves in their reconfiguration of wards and precincts. Cobb also indicated that the Commission will be seeking public comment and input from the council.

Commissioner Peter Sheinfeld, responding to a question posed by Councilor Leland Cheung, indicated that the council should not expect too many modifications. One major limitation, Sheinfeld said, is finding polling locations that are handicapped accessible.

“Voting has to be convenient as well, and that was a loss for a number of people in this community,” said Councilor Marjorie C. Decker, expressing dismay regarding the loss of voting precincts ten years ago. She called on the Election Commission to maintain or increase the number of precincts currently in the Cambridge. She also expressed concerns about the State’s plan to change legislative districts and the impact on the number of representatives native to Cambridge. Cambridge currently has six state legislators representing the district, with only two residing within its borders, Decker said.

Reeves suggested to the Election Commission look at the “evolving sociology of the city” and reconsider placing polling places in areas that have higher densities of eligible voters, noting that some new developments that were designed to house foreign students who are ineligible to vote. Commissioners stated that state laws require precincts to be determined by population, rather than actual registered voters.

The roundtable concluded with a discussion about possibilities of improving election result reporting. Maher leaned over his table and looked at the members of the press in the audience, joking  about the existence of willing co-sponsors for such a program. Councilors disagreed however as to whether or not reporting should simply be of results or also include commentary.

Local bloggers and reporters weren’t all enthusiastic about the conversation, with one individual being heard saying the discussion was “so stupid it’s insulting,” that the Council was trying to decide the terms of the media coverage of their own election.

No votes were taken at last night’s meeting.

—Staff writer David H.A. LeBoeuf can be reached at leboeuf@college.harvard.edu.

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