Photo: Voting will take place at elementary school locations in Belmont
Belmont Town Clerk Ellen Cushman thought she had everything planned to manage the upcoming Town Election on Tuesday, April 6 as well as one can during a pandemic.
Cushman had her volunteers at the ready, enough PPE’s (personal protective equipment) on supply, and eight ballot locations with plenty of space to allow for six feet of personal distance for everyone. Three of those locations – the Winn Brook (Precinct 8), Butler (Precinct 4), and the Burbank (Precinct 7) – are located in the gyms of elementary schools closed due to COVID-19.
That all changed last week when Belmont School Superintendent John Phelan announced the town’s elementary students will be returning back full-time to the classroom one day before the election on Monday, April 5. And due to social distancing requirements and safety concerns on spreading the coronavirus, schools are using every nook and cranny have to turn into learning spaces: storage spaces, libraries, lunchrooms, and those previously empty gyms.
“We recognize that it could be somewhat challenging especially since the children will be returning to school just one day prior,” said Cushman.
Cushman wanted to “make sure that everyone feels comfortable, everyone is safe” working at those precincts. To accomplish those goals, there needed to be some thought on “what constraints and restraints we might be able to put in place to make sure that happens.”
A meeting was held with Cushman, Phelan, school staff, Town Health Director Wes Chen and Town Administrator Patrice Garvin to evaluate the town’s ability to run the election from those locations, with questions like is there any chance to move the precincts to other locations which are large enough to accommodate a very spread out election process.
But, considering all kinds of factors such as our ability to run these elections in other places, do we have sizes of buildings and facilities that are going to be large enough to accommodate a very physically spread out election process which has been done since the previous year. There were also issues of accessibility for voters and having enough parking, all the while “making sure that we could keep all these various populations separated properly,” said Cushman.
At the end of the evaluation, the group decided that it could “accommodate the voting activity in the elections at the three elementary schools in addition to our other five locations,” said Cushman.
“We will work with the principals of each of those schools as well as [the] facilities department to make sure that we make appropriate accommodations in line with any health guidance,” she said.