NORTON — As soon as next April’s annual town election, voters should be casting ballots in local elections on Saturdays, and they will be doing their civic duty at another location.
Selectmen have agreed with a request from Town Clerk Lucia Longhurst to move the date of town elections from Tuesdays to Saturdays.
And the election polling places are being relocated to the middle school from the high school.
“The benefits of a Saturday election I feel will hopefully bring out a much better turnout,” Longhurst said. “There will be no schools open, less traffic and no school buses. Most important I also feel it will be more accommodating to the residents.”
Selectmen wholeheartedly agree.
“So many people work out of town,” Selectmen Chairman Brad Bramwell said. “We felt it would make it easier and take the burden off the schools.”
Bramwell pointed out the town used to hold its elections Mondays.
Residents at town meeting this fall are expected to vote on a bylaw for the date change.
As for the poll change, the high school has been used for several years, with voting previously at Yelle School.
Longhurst had suggested the latter school, noting parking is better than at the middle school, but selectmen and school officials backed the middle school and the town clerk said she had no problem with that spot.
Superintendent Joseph Baeta said he and school committee members supported the middle school for safety concerns as it is the only school with a gym that can be accessed by the public from external doors and has nearby restrooms.
“The rest of the school can be locked off,” Baeta said.
At the high school, even with police presence during elections, the superintendent said “our staff and our students, they’ve been very vocal. They don’t feel safe.”
While parking is limited at the middle school, Baeta pointed out there are no student drivers as at the high school, temporary parking could be set up, and staff could be shuttled in from elsewhere.
For state and presidential elections, there is the option to hold half school days or close entirely, it was noted.
A problem at the high school was that school started around the time of the polls opening, causing traffic to back up to West Main Street (Route 123) with voters, students, school employees and poll workers arriving. The middle school starts classes later.
“I’m good with the middle school,” Police Chief Brian Clark said. “There is less traffic than town center. Parking is always a concern. There is just so much traffic congestion” at the high school.
Selectmen were unanimously swayed to go with the middle school.
“The pros of the middle school outweigh the pros of the other schools,” Selectwoman Mary Steele said.
It will cost the town a few thousand dollars to notify all voters about the new poll, Longhurst added.
State and presidential elections would remain being held Tuesdays, but at the middle school.
“It’s going to be a very busy year,” Longhurst said of elections.