When campus safety protocols required that the May Street Auditorium serve as a classroom and study space big enough for socially distant learning this fall, the City of Worcester took note. Residents from three precincts in Ward 9 are accustomed to using the auditorium as their voting location, a tradition that started long before the Worcester State Foundation bought the property from the Temple Emanuel congregation in 2015. The new academic use of the space created issues, especially since early voting days would require the facility to be off-line for campus use for more than a week starting in late October.
“We want to be a good neighbor, but disrupting our academic activities for more than a week was not ideal, so we started discussing alternatives with City Clerk Niko Vangjeli,” says Carl A. Herrin, chief of staff to President Barry M. Maloney.
As a result of those discussions, this year—and likely only this year—the competition gym in the Wellness Center will become the new location for voters in Ward 9, precinct 1, 2, and 3 to cast their ballots, a change that was made official at a Board of Election Commissioners hearing on Oct. 5.
In addition to election day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, residents can vote early at this location on Wednesday, Oct. 28, Thursday, Oct. 29, and Friday, Oct. 30. The gym will not be available for campus use from Oct. 26 to Nov. 4.
Director of Conference and Event Services Mike McKenna has been working with Vangjeli to finalize logistics for the event. Voters will enter the building using the North Parking Lot entrance and exit through a door facing the Ghosh Science and Technology Center, creating a one-way pathway. Hallway access will be restricted and other entrances to the Wellness Center will require users to swipe in using their OneCard to prevent the general public from wandering around other parts of the building.
The University will also provide a table with hand sanitizer and extra face masks.
Two other factors made use of the gym possible this fall: The postponement of the fall athletic season allowed the normally busy gym to be taken off-line for a week; and with fewer students, faculty, and staff on campus, parking is not as much of an issue. About 40 spots in the North Parking Lot will be designated for voter use. In addition, areas near the lot will be roped off for “electioneering,” a term for activities such as holding campaign signs that, by state law, must stay 150 feet away from the entrance to the polling place.
“When we get back to normal operations, future voting activities will probably return to the May Street Auditorium,” says Herrin. “We’re all trying to adapt to the current situation. We are happy we could work out an alternative location, given the expected high-level of interest for this particular election.”