Questions linger around Town Elections, Town Meeting

With the state just starting to relax stay-at-home restrictions, selectmen still have questions about the best way to run Abington’s annual Town Meeting and Town Elections. 

The board adjourned its meeting Monday night without taking a vote on what time polls will be open on Election Day, or what day the Annual Town Meeting will be held. 

Town Clerk Leanne Adams has placed absentee ballot request forms outside Town Hall for those interested in voting absentee in the upcoming Annual Town Elections. (Photo courtesy of Leanne Adams)

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many Massachusetts towns to postpone their traditional spring time municipal elections and town meetings. Abington’s Town Elections, which are typically held on the final Saturday of April, were moved to Tuesday, June 23. 

The Board of Registrars chose that date because Emerald Hall, the Central Avenue reception hall where voting will take place, originally had all Saturdays booked with functions. Selectmen voted last year to move the town’s polling location out of the middle/ high school gym and to Emerald Hall after receiving complaints from voters about the distance from the parking lot to the gym.  

Town Clerk Leanne Adams last week asked selectmen to consider shortening voting hours by two hours. She said she was concerned about having more than 30 poll workers, most of whom are senior citizens, sit in a room for nine straight hours, particularly with a low turnout expected and more people expected to vote by absentee ballot.

“Changing the hours was for the safety of the residents and the workers,” said Adams, who called in to the board’s meeting Monday night.

Multiple board members were skeptical of the idea.  

“I agree its going to be a small turnout, which is why I woudn’t vote for anything that will make it harder for people to come out and vote,” said board vice-chairman Tim Chapin. 

But the board had a number of questions, such as how easily people will be able to vote early via absentee, how much social distancing guidelines will be relaxed by late-June, and even if Emerald Hall had any cancellations that would allow the town to move elections back to a Saturday.

Board Chairman Tom Connolly said he would prefer to wait and get answers instead of “rushing into anything.”

As part of the discussion, the board also heard from Acting Town Manager Scott Lambiase about plans for Town Meeting,  which is tentatively scheduled for Monday, June 22, the evening before Town Elections. 

June 22, said Lambiase, is a date that worked for everyone, including the town’s lawyers who usually attend and helps answer questions. Lambiase said he is working worked with the moderator to figure out a way to seat 150 residents — the number of  people required for a quorum — while adhering by social distancing guidelines. One possible avenue includes using the nearby gymnasium as a second seating area so attendees can spread out. Legislators on Beacon Hill are also considering a bill that would allow towns to temporarily lower the number of people required for a quorum.

In order to avoid having Town Meeting and Town Elections within 24 hours, selectmen also asked Lambiase his thoughts about delaying Town Meeting until July. Doing so means Abington would start the new fiscal year on July 1 without an official budget. In order to keep paying police officers, firefighters and other town workers after June 30, selectmen would have to adopt a “1/12th” budget, or the average monthly budget from the previous year. 

“I have to check with the department heads, but I don’t think (a 1/12th budget) would have a negative impact on any of them,” Lambiase said.  

Selectmen are expected to again discuss finalizing a date for the Annual Town Meeting at its next board meeting.  

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