Council Moves Polling Place from Senior Housing to Middle School

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Charlie Breitrose

After hearing from many people worried about having voters coming into a senior apartment building during the 2020 elections, the Town Council voted to move the polling location to Watertown Middle School.

A temporary location for Precincts 11 and 12 is needed because the normal voting location, Cunniff Elementary School, is under construction. School construction at Hosmer Elementary School also impacted Precinct 2, which will move to the Hellenic Cultural Center. The locations will be used for the Sept. 1 State Primary and the Nov. 3 Presidential Election.

The original plan from Town Clerk John Flynn called for moving the two Cunniff precincts down the street to the E. Joyce Munger Apartments at 100 Warren St. Town Councilors heard from many people concerned with having the public come into a facility that had been closed to outsiders since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Assistant Town Manager Steve Magoon said plans had been made to separate the public from the residents of the Munger Apartments, and to sanitize the area. However, he recommended changing the location.

“While I am confident that we could do that and do that safely, I think the suggestion for the use of Munger Apartment Building caused a lot of residents to have concerns and fears about having the public vote there,” Magoon said. “Instead of the Munger Apartments, we recommend that we utilize the Middle School cafeteria for Precincts 11 and 12.”

The Middle School gymnasium is already used as a voting location for Precincts 8 and 9, so the facility meets the requirements for parking and handicap accessibility.

The possibility of moving the voting site to a senior facility bothered many living there. They reached out to Town Councilors, Town staff and to the media, both local outlets and a Boston News station. Lisa Cavarretta said that she has not been able to visit her mother, who lives at the Munger Apartments, since March because of COVID-19. She said residents of the building have made many sacrifices to remain safe, so she was puzzled to hear that the public would be voting there.

“My mom is at the Munger Building. They are elderly, they are compromised in their health, and there will be hundreds if not thousands of people walking through building and using the same entrance and exit,” Cavarretta said.

Councilor Ken Woodland, who represents the Westside of town, including Precincts 11 and 12, said that he received a lot of messages of concern.

“I did get a lot of calls from residents, who I think will be happy with the change,” Woodland said.

Councilor John Gannon thanked the Town administration for responding to people’s concerns.

“First of all, I commend administration for responding to the residents’ comments about their safety and feeling exposed to the deadly disease we are facing right now,” Gannon said.

The Council wondered about what steps will be taken to make the polling locations safe during the pandemic. Town Council President Mark Sideris said he has been in contact with the Director of Public Buildings, Lori Kabel, who said that janitors have been using foggers among other efforts to sanitize areas.

“A significant effort has been made from the school side,” Sideris said. “They will be super, super sanitized and cleaned, as needed.”

Councilor Tony Palomba wants to make sure that people know the switch has been made from the Munger Apartments to the Middle School, including putting up signs at the Munger Apartments reminding them of the switch.

“Sometimes they get into their head, and neglect to read next email. Let’s make sure they are redirected to the Middle School,” Palomba said.

Councilor Anthony Donato said he supported the move of the polling location to the middle school. He also thanked the Watertown Housing Authority for what they have done to protect its residents, including those at the Munger Apartments.

“The Watertown Housing Authority had zero confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the 589 units that it overseas,” Donato said.

Councilor Caroline Bays also reminded people that they have other options to in-person voting if they are concerned with COVID-19. They can apply for a mail-in ballot (applications have been sent to homes) or they can request an absentee ballot. There will also be early voting at Town Hall for the Presidential Election from Oct. 17 to 30.

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