Board of Elections overturns decision to close polling place at Newport senior center

NEWPORT, R.I. (WPRI) — Hundreds of Newport residents will be able to use their normal polling location to vote in the upcoming general election following a decision Friday morning by the Rhode Island Board of Elections.

The board voted unanimously to overturn a decision earlier this month by the Newport Board of Canvassers to close the polling place at Park Holm Senior Center and combine it with a neighboring precinct.

“They voted to move Park Holm to the Pell School based on health and safety issues and concerns for the poll workers and to allow more voters to wait inside a building due to possible inclement weather,” BOE executive director Robert Rapoza said Friday.

The Park Holm location was closed for this year’s primaries but the Newport Housing Authority ruled it could reopen for the Nov. 3 election.

On Oct. 2, the Board of Canvassers voted 2-1 to keep it closed. Eleven days later, the board met to hear concerns from residents about the change and voted again in favor of moving the location.

The move was met with criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Rhode Island. On Thursday, ACLU executive director Steven Brown wrote a letter to the Board of Elections saying the precinct is home to many elderly voters, minorities, and people with disabilities, and the change could make it more difficult for them to vote.

In explaining the board’s ruling, Rapoza said legally, the decision to move a polling center outside of its district must be unanimous, which it wasn’t.

“There is a potential of possibly 869 voters who may cast a ballot at the Park Holm, but based on that information, the staff feels and recommends that the Park Holm Senior Center be used as a polling place on Nov. 3 in the city of Newport,” he added.

According to the Board of Elections, of the nearly 1,000 registered voters in that precinct, 112 requested mail ballots for the upcoming election.