By Mac Cerullo Staff Writer
Newburyport Daily News
---- — AMESBURY — The relocation of the polls from City Hall to the cafeteria at Amesbury High School for the first time yesterday appears to have been a resounding success.
Officials reported a much smoother flow of voter traffic and far less confusion even as an early-morning crunch packed the cafeteria to maximum capacity.
While there were delays driving in and out of the parking lot of the high school on Highland Street, poll workers said voters seemed pleased with the new poll location.
“We think it’s been wonderful,” City Clerk Bonnijo Kitchin said. “The space is so much bigger, and if people think this was crowded, I can’t imagine what it would’ve been at the Town Hall. If this was crowded here, it would’ve been 10 times worse there.”
During a brief lull in the late morning, Kitchin said the busiest time of the day had been between 7 and 8 a.m., when more than 2,000 voters crowded into the cafeteria just as polls opened. Kitchin said she had to move a few tables and adjust the lines to get everyone to fit, but once people started moving through, voting and leaving, things began to run relatively painlessly.
“What happened was a lot of people showed up before the polls were open, waited to vote and we had a continuous line of traffic coming in with nobody leaving,” Mayor Thatcher Kezer said. “That created a huge logjam, but once the polls opened, people were able to vote and head off, then the flow improved tremendously.”
Kitchin said there were some backups and complaints, mostly due to typical election day snafus like a voter being inactive or still being registered in another community. But the fact that there was more space to work with helped resolve these situations more quickly, she said.
“It creates a bit of a rush and backlash because then they have to go back and get in a different line, and unfortunately for them it takes a little bit more time, but for the most part we’ve had great response from people,” Kitchin said. “We’ve had a few complaints, but no matter what, I always expect a few complaints.”
Kezer said the process of moving the polls from City Hall to the high school cafeteria began shortly after the 2008 presidential election, when the city had a record voter turnout that completely overwhelmed the municipal office building.
“There was a line down the entire length of Friend Street and the doorways leading from the front door of Town Hall into the auditorium created a bunch of bottlenecks; it just really caused a problem,” Kezer said. “We knew four years ago that this wasn’t going to work, that we needed another solution.”
A formal committee to explore other options was established last year, and that committee ultimately settled on using the high school cafeteria because it’s much more spacious than City Hall and has more parking available onsite for voters.
Kezer said the decision has worked out as well as anyone could have hoped for, and while the high school had been overwhelmed parking-wise on a couple of occasions earlier in the day, it was far better than it would have been downtown.
“It’s not a case where we were going to avoid traffic jams and all that; that was going to happen no matter what. But it’s much less than what would’ve happened if we did this downtown. We would’ve shut down the entire downtown,” Kezer said.
“It’s never flawless, it’s never without some logjam somewhere, but I think this is a lot better situation than we would’ve had at the old location.”