The Great Southie Poll-Switching Saga

Michael Flaherty's campaign is a little hot and bothered about a change in poll locations in South Boston. Here's what's going on.

One of the biggest polling places in the city is at St. Brigid Parish in South Boston -- in fact, given the Michael Flaherty mayoral candidacy, it likely would have been number one in votes cast in the upcoming September preliminary election. Three precincts vote in the same place -- which is actually not St. Brigid, even though everyone you talk to about this refers to it as the St. Brigid polling place, which is very Southie. (Do New Bostonians living in Southie know that they're supposed to refer to places by parish?) In 2004, the city determined that St. Brigid itself does not meet standards for handicap accessibility, so they moved the polling place to close-by St. Matthew the Redeemer (Episcopal), basically across the street.

This is Flaherty country. (In fact, I have been told that his mother serves as a poll worker there.) Here's a little data for you: in the 2005 general election, 1648 people cast ballots in those three precincts; 790 of them voted for Tom Menino for mayor, while 1355 cast a vote for Flaherty for at-large city council -- and just 365 gave Sam Yoon one of their at-large votes. In the 2007 final, Flaherty beat Yoon 832-196 on 988 ballots cast there.

Just in the past few days, the Boston Elections Department informed city candidates that Matthew the Redeemer will be unable to serve as a polling place, so the Department will be finding a new site -- or sites -- for those precincts to vote.

Geraldine Cuddyer, the city's election commissioner, had a little walkaround meeting with representatives of the Menino, Flaherty, and Yoon campaigns this morning, to discuss options. (Cuddyer tells me that she tried to contact McCrea, but he has been out of the country due to a death in the family.) Apparently there are a couple of different possibilities under consideration. The election board hopes to make a final decision by the end of next week, after which it will begin notifying residents through a variety of outreach methods.

The Flaherty folks, as you might imagine, are worried that the change will depress turnout in these key precincts. It's one thing for people to show up at St. Brigid and be told to cross the street to the new location; it's quite another if people show up and find out they have to drive somewhere (especially given the realities of parking). Also, depending on which solution they end up with, it could change at least one other precinct polling place in a domino effect. The Flaherty campaign thinks there is too little time left before the prelim to be making this change. Cuddyer says nonsense, we do this kind of thing all the time, we know what we're doing.

Of course, there are a lot of folks around this city who don't think that the election department knows what it's doing, and they've had some good reason for their suspicions in the past. A lot of folks also tend to think that Mayor Menino and his people deliberately use the department to screw around with turnout. (It's also worth noting that in last year's state primary, some polling places were moved late in black neighborhoods, prompting outrage from Dianne Wilkerson's campaign -- but Menino was backing Wilkerson in that race.)

In this case, there is some mumbling that this should have been dealt with much sooner. Cuddyer acknowledges that the department has known about the closing of Matthew the Redeemer since November. However, she says that they still thought they could use the facility. She says it was only at the beginning of this month that the department learned that the building had been "mothballed" -- ie, heating and water shut off, etc. -- and would not be usable as a polling place. [Clarification: My wording erroneously gives the impression that the department ignored the situation until this month. In fact, Cuddyer tells me that the department has been working on potential alternative plans since earlier this year, even before learning that the building was definitely unusable, and notified campaigns, including Flaherty's, as early as May of the possible need to change the polling location.]

Anyway, that's where it stands at the moment. I report, you decide, as they say -- so what are your thoughts?

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