Derry’s election officials will be in talks with Pinkerton Academy Headmaster Griffin Morse after the school’s Early Release Day allegedly created problems for the elderly and handicapped at the Districts 1 and 3 polling place.
The town uses the school’s Hackler Gym for voting for two of its districts. After the Nov. 4 General Election, several candidates, poll workers and town officials expressed concern about the buses and voters around the noon hour.
“We are concerned,” Town Moderator Margaret Ives said in a phone interview after the election. “Denise (Town Clerk Denise Neale) and I are going to talk with Mr. Morse.”
Ives explained that when the buses arrive, the handicapped parking is blocked and the elderly and handicapped need to find other options. For many, that was the parking lot on the other side of busy Pinkerton Street.
“They have to get themselves across the street,” she said.
For a town election, which traditionally draws fewer voters, it’s never been a problem, Ives said. Even with buses, there are spaces closer to the building. But the large turnout on Election Day, an estimated half of Derry’s registered voters, forced the frailer citizens to park where they would have a longer walk.
The problem is only during the lunch hour/dismissal period, Ives added, saying, “The buses are there at noon and they block the entrance. By 12:30 they’re gone.”
She hasn’t received any formal complaints, she said, “but I expect to.” One person with mobility issues did speak to her about having to park across the street, “and they weren’t happy about it,” Ives said.
Options would include closing Pinkerton for the full day, Ives said, but that is not within the town’s purview.
John Potucek, who won a State Representative seat, was more blunt: “It was totally impossible,” he said of the lunch hour voting. “The people who were inside voting were stuck there. You couldn’t get in, you couldn’t get out, you couldn’t move around. We were standing there wondering, ‘What’s going on?’”
It’s a violation of Federal law, Potucek said, to impede someone from voting.
Town Councilor Joshua Bourdon stopped by between 3 and 5 p.m. It wasn’t easy even then, he said, noting that he had to do “a couple of laps around” before he found a parking spot.
Councilor Tom Cardon said, “A lot of concerns are being aired about the Pinkerton parking.”
While the school would work if it weren’t for the buses, Council Chair Mark Osborne observed, “We would be better served if we find a new location.”
Cardon worried that with the buses there, voters who had only the lunch hour would stop coming. And Osborne said, “We need to give people as few impediments to voting as possible. If this is not fixed by the Presidential election, it will be a nightmare.”
Pinkerton has worked hard on accommodating Derry voters, and except for the lunchtime crunch, it’s been a fine experience, Osborne said.
But “It is something that has to be fixed,” Cardon said.
Chip Underhill, a spokesperson for the Academy, wrote in an e-mail, “We allotted the town more than 50 spaces, including all the handicap places closest to the balloting center… but due to use of those spaces by canvassers and the standard parking needs for school in session, even on a half-day schedule, this year’s logistics were unworkable. The school has been in communication with the Town Clerk’s Office prior to and subsequent to the election. It will consider what it wants and needs to do.”
Ives took an optimistic attitude, noting that the next big crowd is expected for the 2016 Presidential primary. “We’ve got two years to work something out,” she said.