Letter: Town Council Must Rescind Its Vote To Consolidate Polling Locations

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Late Monday night, by a bare 7-6 majority, the Amherst Town Council voted to consolidate all polling locations to the Amherst High School for the upcoming September primary and November general election.  The decision is wrong on voting rights grounds and on public health grounds, and it must be rescinded at the Council’s next scheduled meeting on August 10.  The plan to consolidate all polling locations to one site will suppress the vote, disenfranchise many voters, and increase risk of transmission of the COVID-19 disease.  Town Councilors heard overwhelming evidence and testimony last night from community members who eloquently articulated why this plan should be rejected.  In fact, the Town Council did initially reject it with a 7-6 vote.  Immediately after the Council took that vote, it received false information that it could not wait until next week to make any changes to polling locations for the primary election.  The Secretary of the Commonwealth’s Office has now confirmed that this information was false.  Cities and towns in Massachusetts have until August 12 to make any such changes to polling locations for the September primary.

Further, the Town Council was out of order for voting on the motion to reconsider the first vote Councilors took last night on this matter.  Amherst Town Council rules of procedure make clear that such a motion to reconsider cannot be voted on until the next regular meeting of the Council.  And, yet the Council quickly took up the motion at last night’s meeting and subsequently reversed the prior vote.  This violated the Council’s own rules of procedure.

Town Councilors still have time to make this right.  At their August 10 meeting, they must rescind their vote approving this plan to consolidate all polling locations to one site and they must vote for Councilor Cathy Schoen’s alternative proposal which would keep most polling locations, establish the high school as a polling site for the few precincts which need to move there, and help ensure a safe and accessible election in September and in November in Amherst.  But this will only happen if we continue to make our voices heard.  I urge all Amherst residents to contact the Amherst Town Council and demand this action and i urge all of us to attend the next council meeting on August 10 and to participate in the public comment period.  In the spirit of John Lewis, we must stand up and fight for the right to vote.

John Bonifaz

John Bonifaz is a constitutional lawyer and national leader in fighting for voting rights and our democracy.  He has lived in Amherst since 2007.

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5 thoughts on “Letter: Town Council Must Rescind Its Vote To Consolidate Polling Locations

  1. What the consequences of this action by the Town Council will be are as yet unclear. But astonishingly, it appears to put Amherst on the side of governments – local, state, and national – which desire to make voting more difficult. None of them claim to have that desire and they all have rationales that evade confronting that desire. To see this happening here and now is about as saddening as anything I have experienced in this dreadful year.

  2. From: Toni B Cunningham
    Date: Tue, Aug 4, 2020 at 2:15 PM
    Subject: Rescind Vote to Consolidate Polling Locations
    To:

    Hello,
    I am writing in support of John Bonifaz’ call for the Council to rescind the vote made late last night to consolidate polling locations into the High School.

    Mr. Bonifaz notes that the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s Office has confirmed the information provided about the timeline was not correct (the Council does indeed have until August 12th to vote on polling locations), and that the vote to reconsider violated the Council’s own rules of procedure.

    Sincerely,
    Toni Cunningham

  3. I -had- high hope for the new council form of government, I wanted to believe! But this ‘vote to consolidate’ polling into a single building in the center of town, during this Covid era is a DISASTER. Watch the video recording, the call for a -second- vote after the first failed was a pathetic Trump/Putinesque maneuver.

    Among my compatriots in north Amherst there’s talk that these ‘infamous 7’ council members who voted for this awful plan was to discourage those OUTSIDE the wealthy town center and Amherst-Forward-PAC core -NOT- to vote. I HOPE that’s not the case and just cynical hypothesizing..

    Town meeting -certainly- had it’s issues and was awfully ploddingly slow at times, but this kind of nonsense would not of gotten through.

    REMEMBER town council elections are next year (November 2021 I think???) remember this group, the PAC INFAMOUS 7 that publiclly voted yes on this vote-suppressing, undemocratic plan. Let’s get these bums outs:

    Griesemer yes
    Hanneke yes
    Evan Ross yes
    George Ryan yes
    Schreiber yes
    Steinberg yes
    Brewer yes

    Please Amherst we CAN do better, we MUST do better!

  4. Hear, hear!!!

    A central polling site at the High School will not be easily accessible to folks without cars, whereas a site on the Town Common is highly visible and more accessible by public transit. It seems the Town Clerk has received “guidance” from the Secretary of State’s office that voting itself must take place indoors even though that’s not explicitly required by the law (see MGL chapter 64, especially section 25B on early voting, which gives local authorities flexibility in the choice of additional early voting sites and emphasizes accessibility — certainly under ADA.)

    With this in mind. I’m still trying to speak with the Town Clerk about expanding and improving the early voting options, by, for example, having the check-in process take place under a tent or tents on the Town Common, before a voter enters Town Hall to cast the vote. Unfortunately, the Town Clerk was “out of the office” on the 3 days I called this week.

    When I spoke briefly with the Assistant Clerk, I was told they are encouraging voting by mail, and are receiving many inquiries/applications to do that, though it takes several “clicks” to find the form to do that:

    http://www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/elepdf/2020-Vote-by-Mail-Application.pdf

    Even with the vote-by-mail option, as noted by many Indy commenters, it’s important to have robust in-person options, both for early voting and on election day.

    It’s heartening that the public is engaged on this!!!

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