CENTRAL FALLS – In response to a complaint by Councilman James Diossa, a candidate for mayor, the state Board of Elections (BOE) is ordering the city to open all eight polling places for the Dec. 11 runoff election, a move that officials say will cost the financially beleaguered city an estimated $15,000 more than expected.
The Board of Canvassers last week asked BOE for a waiver that would have allowed them to operate the runoff between Diossa and former Police Chief Joseph Moran with just two polling places in the 1.2-square-mile city. Gayle Corrigan, chief of staff to state Receiver John McJennett III, said that would have allowed the city to conduct the runoff election for about $6,500.
Instead, Corrigan said, the election will cost about $20,000 to $21,000 because the city will have to pay overtime for police protection at sites where voting will be done at city schools. She said the Nov. 11 general election, which also served as a mayoral primary to pare a five-candidate field down to the two top vote getters, also cost about $20,000 when only $13,000 had been budgeted.
The special election became necessary with the resignation of Mayor Charles Moreau last month, after he agreed to plead guilty to corruption charges. Moreau will formally change his plea in U.S. District Court on Monday.
Robert Kando, BOE executive director, told The Times that state law requires all polls to be
open and Central Falls has been instructed to do so. The city’s request for a waiver was denied.
“The city should maintain the same polling locations so voters will not have to learn, yet again, that they are voting in a new location,” Diossa said in a letter to Kando and McJennett. “The city should also maintain the same number of polling locations to avoid long lines and voter disenfranchisement.”
“I am keenly aware that cost is a factor in this process,” the Ward 4 councilman added, “but it is important to note that there is a significant cost to reducing and changing polling locations as well; the City is required to send mail to the affected voters. .“With our city emerging from bankruptcy, ensuring the integrity of the democratic process is more important than ever,” Diossa wrote.
“Evidence from this past election shows that reducing the number of polling places drives down turnout, drives up lines and hurts our democratic process,” the letter states. “On November 6th, in cities like Providence, there were frequent reports of voter confusion and long lines as a result of the merging of polling places. In Central Falls, however, where voting locations were accessible and in our neighborhoods, voter turnout actually increased from the 2008 presidential election.
He suggested in his letter that, with the election set for December 11, “snow and other forms of bad weather could easily prevent voters from venturing out of their house if their voting location is no longer in their neighborhood, but now across the city.”
Moran said on Tuesday that “two (polling places) would have been fine with me.”
He noted that, unlike the Nov. 6 election, where voters had to fill out a four-page ballot that contained candidates for president, U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives and a whole raft of state and local referenda questions, there will only be two names on the ballot Dec. 11, his and Diossa’s. “It should take people about two seconds; they probably already know who they want to vote for anyway. “Who is going to pick up the cost? The taxpayers,” Moran said. “I thought we were in this to save money.”