Stuffing the … Precinct? Small Boston Precincts Create Big Problems

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[Image courtesy of badfads]

My friend and colleague Charles Stewart of MIT tipped me to this story …

The City of Boston is facing a real challenge in its upcoming election: there simply isn’t enough room in precincts to handle everyone who needs and wants to get inside.

The Boston Globe has more:

How crowded is the election field in Boston this fall? So crowded that election officials are worried that mobs of competing poll checkers inside polling places will leave no room for voters.

The field is so crowded that signs for the 50 candidates running for mayor and City Council may blot out sunlight at some polling places. Dozens of canvassers are expected to line sidewalks outside, forcing voters to run a gantlet of brochures and slogans to get to the ballot box.

To fight democratic gridlock, the city wants to make sure traffic keeps moving on election day. The most pressing issue will be poll checkers: campaign workers stationed inside voting places who check off names and play a crucial role in get-out-the-vote operations.

Campaigns are allowed to station observers inside voting stations, but some of Boston’s polling places are in cramped spaces in churches and senior centers. There simply may not be room for all the poll checkers, forcing campaigns to share.

“We’re concerned about how many bodies we can fit in one space,” said Geraldine Cuddyer, chairwoman of the Board of Election Commissioners. “We want to make sure that on Election Day we are not spending the day refereeing.”

The issue, quite simply, is that the precincts need room for poll workers – and of course, voters:

Election officials staff each polling place with at least seven people, but some precincts have more. Staff includes a police officer, language translators, election inspectors, and a warden, who is in charge. The addition of a dozen campaign poll checkers might be too much.

“Some of these [polling] places are tiny,” Cuddyer said.

The City is trying to get a sense from the campaigns about who is planning to show up on Election Day, but some campaigns are refusing to share that information for fear it will tip their hand to opponents. The City is saying, in essence, relax and help us:

Election officials vowed to safeguard the information and use it only to tally how many poll checkers would be in each voting place.

“This is an issue of numbers and space,” Cuddyer said. “It has nothing to do with their strategy. I couldn’t care less about their strategy. All we’re doing is literally trying to figure out how many people can fit in a room.” …

Election officials said they did not plan to identify individual campaigns by name in records. Instead, they plan to create a spreadsheet to tally the number of expected poll checkers for each of Boston’s 255 precincts.

If the campaigns do not cooperate, the City does have recourse to make way for voters using state law:

State election law allows, but does not require, that access can be given to campaign observers inside polling places, according to Brian McNiff, a spokesman for Secretary of State William F. Galvin …

State election rules [also] offer a solution. McNiff from the secretary of state’s office read from the guidelines: “If there are so many observers in the polling place that they obstruct voters, they may be asked to cooperate in collecting information.”

That means rival campaigns may be forced to work together and share information on Election Day, in the name of democracy.

“People have to be able to vote,” McNiff said. “That takes precedence.”

This should be really interesting. Stay tuned – and thanks to Charles for sharing!

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