The caller was annoyed. The card she received from the Board of Canvassers didn’t make sense. For years she voted at the police headquarters in Apponaug, not all that far from her home in Greenwood. Now she was being told her polling location is Sparrows Point 3, a place she has never visited and that is at least a mile further away than the police station. In fact, she would go by the police station to get to Sparrows Point.
The woman, who asked not to be identified, is hardly alone.
Since mailing more than 61,000 cards to registered voters last month, the board has received a steady flow of calls from voters questioning why they must change polling locations. Of course, not all voters will need to travel to new polls. Most will go where they have always gone to cast their ballots come the Sept. 11 primary or the General Election on Nov. 6. The major exceptions are in Ward 8 and 3, says Dottie McCarthy of the board.
And, as it turns out, the police station and Sparrows Point polling locations is a good example of what can happen as a result of the 2010 Census and new laws regulating voting.
The Greenwood resident who called the Beacon lives in Ward 8; however, the police station is in Ward 7. By law, the city must provide a poll within the ward where the voter lives. Additionally, the law has changed increasing the allowable number of voters within a voting district from 1,900 to 3,000. This has enabled municipalities to consolidate and thereby trim costs. In the case of Warwick, polling locations have been reduced from 38 to 33, reports registrar Donna MacDonald. MacDonald’s concern is that some voters won’t bother to learn the location of their new poll and simply not vote.
“Anyone can vote by mail ballot,” she stressed.
No longer do voters need to show they are out of town or can’t otherwise get to a polling location. The deadline to file an application to vote in the primary is Aug. 21. Oct. 16 is the deadline for the General Election.
Another deadline, to register in time to vote in the primary, comes up this Sunday. To accommodate those looking to register, the board office in City Hall will be open from 1 to 4 p.m. this Sunday, MacDonald said.
Former registrar Joseph Gallucci, who is a candidate to succeed his brother Raymond as the Ward 8 councilman, said he has received several calls about the change in polling locations.
“I try to say change is progress, but people don’t always buy it,” he said.
Like MacDonald, Gallucci fears some people will simply not vote, instead of learning the new location and changing their routine. In addition to Sparrows Point, Ward 8 has polling locations at Greenwood Community Church, Shalom housing and East Natick Veterans. As an example of the distances voters have to travel, although this has been the case prior to the redistricting resulting from the 2010 Census, Gallucci said residents of Matthew XXV vote at East Natick Veterans. Matthew XXV is across Greenwich Avenue from Shalom, another polling location in the ward.
Some Ward 3 voters are also in for a major change. The Warwick Public Library on Sandy Lane is actually in Ward 6, so voters accustomed to casting their ballots there will now need to travel to the National Guard Armory on Airport Road.
“Everything is done by the Census, which is [held] every 10 years,” said MacDonald.
As the requirement is that precincts be as equal as possible in population, MacDonald said redistricting has a domino effect as people are shifted between districts.
“It takes from the head and goes to the tail,” she said, shaking her head.