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North Adams city council extends voting hours by two hours for November election

North Adams, Massachusetts city hall.
Josh Landes
North Adams, Massachusetts city hall.

The North Adams, Massachusetts city council approved extending voting hours for next month’s municipal election at its meeting this week.

The body took up the issue as it moved to set voting times for the November 7th polls, when North Adams residents will decide on the makeup of the council, school committees, and mayor’s office.

“We only have to be open from 9 to 7. But every time I hear people- If I'm out there, I hear people complaining. They want to vote before they go to work and then they get busy and they don't come back, and I really feel like we should open the polls earlier," said Council President Lisa Hall Blackmer. “The problem is that people confuse the state and federal elections with the municipal elections, which is another reason I think it should be a consistent starting time, particularly. The state and federal elections have to be from, they have to be 13 hours. Ours have always run 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. I don’t care about the- I think the other the hour on the end is less of an issue than the hours in the morning, particularly since a lot of our residents work out of town, and then have family commitments in the afternoon.”

The city sets the polls schedule for elections every year, and Blackmer acknowledged that it has jumped around.

“The last election I looked it up was actually 9 o'clock in the morning," she said. "But I do know that I hear complaints about it.”

Not everyone agreed.

“While we're making this sound easy, we do have the city clerk here, and obviously this puts more on her workload as in making sure we have the workers, the police officers, everything there. That can be easily changed. I do think when this discussion has come up in the past, I could be wrong because we're bringing it up now, but when they have looked at past numbers, those first couple of hours have not been anything of a substantial number. And we could say just 10 votes, 20 votes- What's the number that says it's worth it?," asked Councilor Keith Bona. “We're now offering a lot more voting options than we did a few years ago. I mean, you’re never going to make everyone happy. Do it at 7, someone's going to say, I go to work at 6.”

Council Vice President Bryan Sapienza agreed with Bona.

“I would not support a change in the time primarily because the extra cost and the added workload to our city people and our election wardens, our police department," he said. "I think the extra cost, if we do not, coinciding with what Councilor Bona said, if we don't have enough votes during that period of time, we do have the extended time 7 p.m. on the other end. I think we should just leave it where it is.”

Councilor Wayne Wilkinson stood up for the time change.

“It's my constitutional right to vote," he said. "If the only time I can vote is at 7:10, I should be awarded the right to be able to vote at 7:10. Yeah, it may cost a little bit more money. Yeah, we're going to need a couple more people to do it. But it's my right to constitutional right to vote, and I may want to do it at 7:10. But you're going to deny me my constitutional right to vote, because you don't want me there until nine o'clock? Well, you're breaking my constitutional rights”

Councilor Ashley Shade also opposed the change.

“Because there is early voting, absentee voting, and mail-in voting, that timeframe is almost not relevant in the discussion," she said. "If you can't get to the poll at 7:10 and the poll doesn’t open until 9, you can mail-in vote, you can come down to city hall anytime during the week before and vote, including on Saturdays. So, there's plenty of opportunity for everyone to have the opportunity to vote. And we do want as much opportunity as possible, while also balancing our budget and making sure that we aren't charging the taxpayers more for people not even utilizing a specific service.”

Councilor Peter Oleskiewicz backed the move.

“Yes, there are other options available, but we know in North Adams we have a large voter base that is elderly and they have traditionally voted earlier in the morning," he said. "Regardless of the extra costs incurred, I still stand strongly behind an earlier voting time because regardless if there's one vote or 500 votes, every vote does matter, and that's what we try to instill in everybody's minds.”

After the debate, the vote to amend the polls schedule to a 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. model carried in a 5-2 vote, with Bona and Shade in opposition. Councilors Michael Obasohan and Marie Harpin were absent.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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