Memo: Improving Boston Election Administration in 2023 and Beyond

To: Boston Elections Commission

From: Boston Ward 4 Democratic Committee

Many of the members of the Boston Ward 4 Democratic Committee, which represents parts of Back Bay, Fenway, and the South End, and our friends and neighbors served as poll workers on Election Day this past year. 

Boston’s Ward 4 was in the epicenter of the changes in election administration in 2022. With the City’s re-precincting, our number of precincts grew from 10 to 12, and a significant percentage of voters changed precincts. In cases where precincts remained the same, the polling locations often did not. Despite the good-faith efforts of the City to improve voter awareness of changes, the situation created significant voter confusion, which can be avoided in the future. This past year, our committee took it upon ourselves to provide signage outside some of the key polling locations to inform voters of the changes this year; however, this should be standardized. We wanted to provide feedback on how to improve election administration in Ward 4, in particular, as well as share other feedback from local poll workers. 

How to Ensure Voters Know about Polling Location Changes 

The vast majority of voters of Ward 4 saw their polling locations change due to either the redraw of precincts or the resiting of polling locations. That was a recipe for confusion, and poll workers reported frequent incidents of voters arriving at their old polling location. 

We would recommend the following steps:

  • Include information about and familiarity with the website in poll worker training so that poll workers are able to adequately and efficiently inform people of their correct polling location if they have arrived at the incorrect one. 
  • Place bold, user-friendly signage with at polling locations, including in advance of Election Day. 
  • Place bold, user-friendly signage about polling location changes at old polling locations so that voters can be properly redirected. 
  • Redesign mail about polling location changes to better secure voters’ attention. 
  • Place signage about polling location changes in large buildings subject to a polling location change.

Polling Location Change:  Consider Relocating 4-6 away from the Fenway Center

  • The Fenway Center is an inconvenient polling location for many of the residents of the redrawn 4-6, most of whom live northeast of Christian Science Plaza. The polling location is a 1-mile walk from the major residential buildings in the precinct, which can be prohibitive for elderly voters or voters with mobility issues. 
  • Given the inconvenient location of the precinct, a high percentage of voters chose to vote by mail instead, as the dropbox at the Boston Public Library is near where most voters live. This led to very low election-day voting, creating a sense of redundancy for poll workers. 
  • Poll workers at Tent City (4-3) encountered a significant number of voters who previously voted at Tent City and had not realized the change. Upon learning of the new location, they were less likely to vote given the distance between polling locations. 
  • Voters in 4-6 are much more familiar with polling locations such as the Boston Public Library (4-2) and St. Cecilia’s Parish (5-9). Indeed, St. Cecilia’s Parish is located in 4-6 despite serving as the polling location for a precinct in a neighboring ward
  • The Fenway Center polling location also risks causing confusion for voters in the neighboring Ward 4 Precinct 8, given that voters who live adjacent to or across from the Fenway Center do not vote at the Fenway Center but vote at Symphony Plaza West. 

Polling Location Change: Consider Relocating 4-7 back to the Morville House 

  • Many of the senior citizens who live at the Morville House did not vote because they found it too difficult to get to their new polling location and had been accustomed to voting in the building itself. 

Polling Location Change: Consider relocating 4-11 and 4-12 away from The Museum of Fine Arts

  • The polling location at the MFA was poorly lit with no signage to indicate that it was a polling site, as the MFA (illegally) refused to allow campaign signage an appropriate distance away from the entrance. The low-lighting made it look closed, and local residents are aware that the MFA’s regular hours end at 5 pm, exacerbating that perception. 
  • Both precincts housed at the Museum of Fine Arts are very low-turnout precincts (a total of 33 votes at Ward 4 Precinct 11 and 154 at Ward 4 Precinct 12). A volunteer who worked the polls from 6 am to 2 pm noted that only 8 people had voted in 4-11 and between 30 and 40 in 4-12 by the time she left. 
  • Given that there are other polling locations nearby, the existence of the MFA polling location should be reconsidered. If Morville House becomes a polling location again, 4-12 (along with 4-7) could easily vote there. If not, 4-12 could be relocated to the Fenway Center, which is a closer location for most of the residents of 4-12 than is the MFA, or the Fensgate Cooperative building at 73 Hemenway (which has served as a previous polling location for parts of the East Fens). Similarly, residents of 4-11, who are all Northeastern University students, would be familiar with the Fenway Center, as it is a Northeastern-owned building. 

Language Access

  • Symphony Plaza West (4-8) would have benefited from an onsite Chinese translator due to the high volume of Chinese speakers. Poll workers had to make numerous calls to get a translator from City Hall on the phone, which was frustrating for many of the voters.

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