City Council Discusses Polling Issues

What began as an overlooked complaint about a broken elevator in the Baldwin School polling place for the Massachusetts state primary on Sep. 6 exploded into a contentious argument over Cambridge election policies at the City Council meeting Monday night.

Councillor Marjorie C. Decker visited the polling place at the Baldwin School on Election Day in September as a candidate and noted that the elevator was not in service, leaving many voters unable to reach the polls, which were located down a flight of stairs.

Voters were given alternative options, including directions to alternate polling locations or a confidential envelope with which they could submit their ballot to an official, but Decker said on Monday that the number of voters hindered by the broken elevator was not adequately counted by polling officials.

“We don’t know how many voters showed up and left,” she said.

She had communicated the problem on Election Day with the City Manager’s Office in the hopes that it would reach the Election Commission for further review.

But Election Commission Executive Director Tanya Ford responded by saying that the Commission had not received that complaint, or any others about the elevator.

Ford characterized the underlying problem as a lack of communication between Election Commission officials, the City Manager’s Office, and the poll workers at the Baldwin School.

“I think we have a problem getting through to the workers how important it is the job they do,” she said. “They communicated to you, and I wish they had contacted myself or the commissioners, but that was not the case.”

The response of the Commission left some councilors concerned that poll workers and wardens were not adequately prepared to handle election emergencies.

“Hindsight is 20/20 vision, but there are some emergencies you have to predict. At my polling place, one of the workers died! In the morning!” said Councillor Kenneth E. Reeves ‘72.

“I don’t know if it’s additional training of the wardens, if that’s the question here, “ he continued. “I think there should be some kind of emergency plan at the poll to understand what plan B is if plan A is not working, ahead of time.”

The discussion of the elevator malfunction at the Baldwin School opened the floodgates for the Council to air its election-related grievances. Councillor Craig Kelley expressed concern that polling facilities were not being thoroughly inspected by Election Committee officials before Election Day, while Councillor Timothy Toomey asked City Manager Robert Healy to investigate whether polling venues chosen were large and well-staffed enough to handle the crowds anticipated.

In the end, however, the discussion returned to the Baldwin School elevator.

Councillor Decker was not satisfied with the Election Commission’s evaluation of the events, and what she saw as an unwillingness to address and reform past problems.

“My issue isn’t that the elevator was broken, because things do break. My issue is what is the protocol installed and what is the accountability,” Decker said.

“I leave this conversation a little more concerned than when I went into it,” she added.

The issue was referred back to the City Manager’s Office, with the request that a full report about the elevator be brought before the Council at its next meeting on the evening of Nov. 5. The general election will take place the next day, Nov. 6.

A far less contentious issue on the Council’s agenda was a resolution affirming the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s decision to award the Central Square Cultural District the status of a state-designated cultural district.

The resolution passed unanimously.

—Staff writer Amanda E. McGowan can be reached at amanda.mcgowan@college.harvard.edu.

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