ITEM FILE PHOTO
Peabody Town Hall.
BY LEAH DEARBORN
PEABODY — To accommodate high voter turnout expected for November’s presidential election, the city is considering opening the new Higgins Middle School as an additional polling place.
City Clerk Timothy Spanos said he expects a 75 percent voter turnout for in Peabody for the general election match-up between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
If approved, the Higgins would be the third polling location in Ward 4. Voters already cast their votes at the Smith Barn on Felton Street and Calvary Baptist Church on Coolidge Road, which may be too small for the number of anticipated voters, according to School Committee member Jarrod Hochman.
The School Committee is expected to take up whether voting will be allowed at district schools at its Tuesday, June 28 meeting.
In order to minimize disruption during the opening of the new school next fall, the Higgins would be used for voting in the presidential election, but not the September primaries.
Even if the School Committee agrees to allow voting in schools, it doesn’t guarantee that every school will be used.
“This is merely a vote on whether there should be an opportunity to use schools as polling places,” said Hochman. “City Council still determines where polling places actually are.”
While Calvary Church might be able to handle the September primaries which draws fewer voters, School Committee member Joseph Amico said the volume for the presidential election will be too high for the building.
“I would like to not just have voting, but an all-day civics lesson for students,” said Amico in support of school voting.
School Committee member Thomas Rossignoll said a separate polling place for the September and November elections would confuse voters.
“As long as there’s a separate entrance and exit, it’s fine,” said Rossignol about voting at the Higgins. “If that’s the case, I’m not strictly opposed to voting in any public building.”
School Committee member Brandi Carpenter questioned whether parking issues have contributed to lower voter turnout at schools in the past.
“It’s not working at the schools,” said Carpenter. “Why would you keep putting it back there?”
Carpenter and Rossignoll addressed potential safety hazards caused by opening schools to the public for the day.
“Having any John Q. Public walk in past classrooms is a danger we don’t need,” said Rossignoll.
The issue of voters potentially damaging the newly installed gymnasium floor at the Higgins, which will be only four weeks old in November, was raised by School Committee member Beverley Ann Griffin Dunne.
“Taxpayers have paid a fortune for that building and I don’t want to damage it,” she said.