Biddeford is considering a plan to consolidate voting in a single location, a proposal that city officials recognize may face some resistance from residents who are used to voting in their own neighborhoods.

The city’s three polling places would be consolidated to the Biddeford High School Tiger Gym because each of the current locations has shortcomings with disability access, parking or space.

City officials will hold a public hearing on the proposal at 7 p.m. May 20, during the regular City Council meeting.

In 2009, neighboring Saco consolidated its polling in a single location. After solving some problems with parking and traffic during the first election at the central location, the Saco City Council voted to stay with a single location for voting.

Biddeford City Clerk Carmen Morris said this isn’t the first time that consolidating polling places has been considered, but it’s the first time the idea has been presented to the public and the City Council. If approved by the council, the plan will need approval from the state’s elections division.

“It’s not a perfect plan, but the status quo isn’t perfect either,” said Mayor Alan Casavant, who in March appointed a committee to look at the functionality of the current polling places. “We fully understand there will be resistance.”

Residents of wards 1 and 2 – about 30 percent of the city’s 14,000 registered voters – now vote at the public access building on Pool Street. Morris said that location is problematic because the parking lot is “atrocious” and a recent renovation of the building left little floor space for voting booths.

People who live in wards 3, 4 and 5 now vote at the J. Richard Martin Community Center on Alfred Street. Morris said the building needs renovations, but the bigger issue is parking. The center is in a neighborhood where narrow streets make it difficult, and often dangerous, for residents to get to and from the building. Those wards have 44 percent of the city’s voters.

Residents of wards 6 and 7, who make up 26 percent of Biddeford’s voters, cast ballots at the Rochambeau Club on South Street, which the city rents for elections. While there is plenty of parking and space, Morris said, it is not ideal for voters with disabilities because they must come in through the back door and navigate through small rooms to get to the voting booths.

While the Tiger Gym is not a central location, city officials say it is the best option for a single polling place in Biddeford. The gym is fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, it was renovated within the past few years, and it can be secured from the rest of the school during voting hours. School officials have said there would be adequate parking for voters.

In addition to access issues, the fact that more people are voting early by absentee ballot makes this a good time to discuss consolidation, Morris said.

“The polling places are not utilized as they were 20 or 30 years ago,” she said.

Morris said she doesn’t have an estimate of how much money the city would save with just one polling place, but it wouldn’t be a “huge amount” because the city already uses two of its own buildings for polling.

Morris said some residents may be concerned that it will be inconvenient to vote in a location farther from home, but people will always be able to cast absentee ballots at City Hall.

“We know there is going to be resistance to this,” she said. “(City councilors want) to hear what people have to say about this. They don’t want to make this decision in a closet.”

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: grahamgillian

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