Niagara Gazette

February 28, 2014

Falls school board votes not to vote on polling site increase

By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Public concerns were left unanswered after Niagara Falls City School Board members tabled a resolution to increase voting districts Thursday.

The board’s agenda laid out a plan to raise the number of polling sites from eight to 23 but was quickly removed from consideration by a split 5-4 vote.

Prior to the delay, a number of residents demanded action and spent the evening applauding those who opposed shutting the motion down. They ranged from public figures like city council Chairman Charles Walker and Niagara County Legislator Owen Steed to pastors at local churches.

But it was one resident of Spallino Towers that drove her point home right off the bat when she stepped to the microphone.

“I’m here on behalf of all of the residents of Spallino and Wrobel towers,” Vivian Watkins said. “It seems as though the school district has crossed us off like we don’t matter. We’re still concerned citizens, we’re still taxpayers. We hope (the board)’ll reconsider and put our polling places back.”

One of the major concerns when the district reduced its polling places in December 2012 was the removal of the machines from the two tower apartments. But board members were working with the county election commission, which told officials at the time only six electronic voting machines could be guaranteed once the state eliminates the old-fashioned pull lever machines from use.

It turns out, according to a pair of board members, the information may not have been accurate and more electronic machines would be available to handle the needs of the district’s original layout. Vincent Cancemi and Robert Restaino both said the district could return to the previous polling sites without issue. And both opposed tabling the resolution Thursday.

“I want to apologize to all of you having to come here to see this school board duck the issue,” Restaino said. “If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have (voted for reduction). It was the wrong decision, and I’m not afraid to say the right thing to do is correct a wrong thing.”

Board members in favor of keeping the district at eight polling places rally around two points. There’s a financial benefit to the district keeping a lower number of polling sites, as fewer election officials and built in charges for votes means cost savings with fewer locations.

They also believe having sites only inside city schools brings voters into their neighborhood buildings, whether they have children attending or not.

“Aside from bringing voters into our schools to show them the wonderful works and environment our children learn in, there’re real cost savings to the taxpayers that frees up funds,” board member Johnny Destino said. “Funds that we sorely need to help educate our children.”

Unfortunately for those looking for change to take effect before the district’s next election, Thursday’s delay eliminates any hope of affecting the upcoming May election. District Clerk Ruthel Dumas would not have enough time to redesign locations, notify data collection service companies and complete redistricting records to notify voters of the new polling places in the required timeframe, board President Russell Petrozzi said.

A staunch supporter of 23 districts, Petrozzi said the matter could come up on the next board meeting agenda Thursday, March 27.

“This is democracy,” Petrozzi said. “This is how it works. But we’ll keep bringing it up until there’s a decision made either way.”

Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.