After initially proposing that several precincts would move to different polling locations for the September 2022 election, which would particularly impact residents in the eastern half of Watertown, the final plan only moves one precinct on a temporary basis.
The Council not only voted to set the polling locations for the 2022 elections, but also adopted an optional state statute regarding the voter registration deadline, and the process for assigning police officers to voting locations.
The City Council received an initial memo from City Clerk Janet Murphy on Aug. 3 that suggested moving precincts 1 and 3 from the Hellenic Center to the Hosmer School, as well as precincts 4 and 5 from the Phillips School to Hibernian Hall. Acting City Manager Tom Tracy said he received a new memo and forwarded it to the Council on the afternoon of the day of the Council meeting on Aug. 9.
“(The memo) proposes the following: Precinct 1 will remain at the Hellenic Center, Precinct 2 will go to the Hosmer School — its original polling location but has not been used since March of ’20 due to construction, Precinct 3 will be at the Hellenic Center,” Tracy said. “Precincts 4 and 5 stay at the Phillips School, and Precinct 6 will stay at the Hibernians.”
One change for the next couple years will be Precinct 7 moving from Lowell School to Watertown Middle School, due to the construction project at the Lowell. The plan approved by the Council will move Precinct 7 back to Lowell in 2024 after the completion of the project in the fall of 2023, said Council Vice President Vincent Piccirilli.
Some precincts will move back to their normal voting places, having being displaced since the March 2020 election. Precincts 11 and 12 had been at the Middle School while Cunniff was under construction and precinct 2 had been at the Hellenic Center due to the project at Hosmer.
Piccirilli suggested that the Clerk’s office notify residents that their precincts will be moving in 2022.
2022 Watertown Election Locations
- Precinct 1: Hellenic Center
- Precinct 2: Hosmer School
- Precinct 3: Hellenic Center
- Precinct 4: Phillips School
- Precinct 5: Phillips School
- Precinct 6: Hibernian Hall
- Precinct 7: Watertown Middle School
- Precinct 8: Watertown Middle School
- Precinct 9: Watertown Middle School
- Precinct 10: Watertown Police Station
- Precinct 11: Cunniff School
- Precinct 12: Cunniff School
Decisions on the Election Process
District B Councilor Lisa Feltner said that she was glad to see that Precincts 4 and 5, which are in her district, would not be changing their voting locations, but she was not pleased with the process.
“I am really disappointed how this was handled. It says on our website the election commission that we expect that the City Clerk will work with the Election Commission to be involved in policy decisions,” Feltner said.
She added that she hopes that the Election Commission would also discuss the proposed changes to voting rolls, including shifts of voters from one precinct, and sometimes district, to another.
“Certainly it affects District B, several streets suggested being changed for District B, these are the types of things that should have input and discussion with Election Commission as well as the Council,” Feltner said.
Council President Mark Sideris said he will be bringing forward a motion at the next Council meeting to have a discussion about how to move forward with deciding the polling locations in Watertown. The discussion will be held by both the Committee on State, Federal and Regional Government and the Watertown Election Commission.
He also thanked the City Clerk for changing the proposed voting locations.
“I want to take the opportunity to thank Janet Murphy and her staff and Mr. Tracy for having several discussions and understanding the ramification of what is being proposed as part of the memo (on polling locations),” Sideris said.
Voter Registration and Police Details
On Tuesday, the Council also voted to adopt part of Massachusetts General Law about when the Clerk’s office has to be open for the voter registration deadline. The last day to register before an election falls on a Saturday, but by adopting the law Watertown will not have to open the Clerk’s office in City Hall that day, and instead the deadline to register in person will be the end of the day on the Friday before, said Tracy.
“If we anticipate a big election we could choose to open on Saturday, but we would no longer be required to do so,” Tracy said.
Councilor Nicole Gardner asked if Watertown residents could still go on the Secretary of State’s website to register on the Saturday of the deadline. She was told that people can still do so.
Former State Rep. Jonathan Hecht, who is an Election Commissioner, suggested that the Council come up with a policy for how the City decides when to remain open on Saturday for voter registration, along with other issues regarding voting and elections.
“I am glad to hear a referral to one of the Council committees to discuss the polling location. I would suggest this is something that could also be discussed by the same committee,” Hecht said. “I think that this is part of a bigger issue where I think the city would benefit from more clarity around the division of decisions and authority around elections: what things does the Clerk have the authority to decide on her own, what things must come before the Election Commission, what are things that need to come before the Council. I think there is a lot of confusion around this.”
The Massachusetts Election Reform Act, also known as the VOTES Act, which went into effect in June, requires a vote from the City Council to assign police officers to polling locations. On Tuesday the Council voted to have the Watertown Police Chief assign one officer to each polling location.
Feltner noted that some voting locations have more than one precinct, and she asked if there would be one officer per precinct or per location. Tracy said it would be one per location.