Fitchburg Panel Votes to Keep Polls at Saima Park
FITCHBURG -- The Ward 5 voting station for precincts A and B should remain at Saima Park, the City Council’s Legislative Affairs Committee recommended Thursday in a 4-1 vote.
“I don’t know that changing (the location) would help very much because it’s changed so many times,” said Chair Elizabeth Walsh.
Residents and city leaders gathered for a public hearing that discussed potentially moving Precinct 5B to Rollstone Congregational Church on Main Street or keeping the precincts together.
Ward 5′s voting station, which has been at Saima since 2017, has changed locations five times in the past decade.
City Clerk Anna Farrell, who filed a petition to consider moving the precincts’ voting location, showed a map of the church. It has about 20 parking spots, and the Fitchburg Redevelopment Authority offered use of an abutting lot for voter parking.
Through conversations with precinct voters, councilors said they heard support for both options.
Walsh and At-Large councilors Marcus DiNatale, Anthony Zarrella, and David Clark voted in favor of keeping the station at Saima Park. At-Large Councilor E. Thomas Donnelly voted in opposition.
The recommendation will go before the full City Council for final approval.
Committee members said parking is the main concern at Rollstone Church. As told by the clerk’s office, the church may not be able to accommodate a larger turnout of voters like during the 2020 presidential election.
They also raised concern about voters parking at the Intermodal Station garage and having to cross four lanes of traffic to get to the church.
Walsh added that there is adequate parking at Saima and the city already knows that the venue works. For Rollstone, that isn’t known yet, she said.
Donnelly said that relocating voting to Rollstone would be more central and help draw people to Main Street.
“We’re supposed to be promoting downtown,” he said.
Several 5B voters who supported the precinct move to the church said it would address the challenge of getting to Saima Park, which can be especially difficult for the disabled and those without transportation.
To help residents travel to the park to vote in the 2018 election, the city provided shuttle service, but some residents said it was unreliable.
“I take the right to vote very seriously,” said 5B resident Lisa Parsons, who received a ride from a campaign volunteer to cast her ballot. “Voting shouldn’t be so hard.”
Another resident, Roberta Steward, a disabled senior, said she wasn’t able to vote because the shuttle didn’t come.
“This should have never happened to you,” DiNatale said.
Members of the committee said they will work to fix shuttle service and accessibility issues at Saima Park.
The issue with voting at the park was brought to Farrell and Mayor Stephen DiNatale last fall by two individuals. It was the mayor’s idea to use the church as a place to vote -- an option the church previously declined, according to the clerk’s office.
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