The Park Holm Senior Center is one of two polling locations that the local Board of Canvassers decided to keep closed for November’s general election. The alternate location, Pell Elementary School which was used in September’s statewide primary is less than a quarter-mile away. 

But after the Canvassing Board’s meeting on October 7, twenty Newport residents submitted written objections to the change.

In Tuesday’s meeting, the Canvassing Board reaffirmed its decision not to reopen Park Holm on November 3. David Roderick, chair of the Canvassing Board and former mayor, said voters crowded the site during past elections. Because of COVID-19 precautions, there would be little space for people to wait indoors this year.

“Look out the window right now. Think about if this was November 3, wouldn’t it be easier for people to be able to have an umbrella, run into the school, and know they’re protected, sheltered? Here [at Park Holm], the bulk of the line the majority of lines are going to be exterior. And it is a small, confining facility,” Roderick said.

Several residents countered that assigning more people to vote at Pell Elementary School, which is already the designated polling place for another precinct, could pose a greater health risk and go against CDC guidance. Others raised concerns that the new polling location is farther from a public transit line, and could confuse or inconvenience local voters many of whom are low-income or people of color.

“You guys have a really challenging role because you’re trying to balance the health concerns of our community with making sure that as many people who want to vote are able to vote. And I feel like there’s this larger conversation for our nation right now that involves race and equal representation,” said Newport resident Kim Shute. “I want to make sure that if the people of color of Newport, and low-income people, and disabled people who have difficulty getting to a place if they want Park Holm to be open, I want that for them.”

Newport Mayor Jamie Bova, who is not a member of the Canvassing Authority, urged the Board to consider whether the risks of reopening Park Holm for November’s general election outweigh the public interest in maintaining the site as a polling place.

“I don’t believe that the intention of the Canvassing Board at any point was to engage in voter suppression, but I do think that it is important that we recognize that our intentions and the consequent actions don’t always end up matching up,” Bova said. “The appearance of impropriety is just as bad as actual impropriety. So if people believe and see and feel voter suppression, then whether or not that was the true intention, I think that it has to be taken seriously that that was the consequence and the appearance.”

The Canvassing Board’s final vote to confirm the polling site’s relocation was 2-1. If Newport residents again contest the local board’s decision, the matter may be decided by the state Board of Elections.

Antonia Ayres-Brown is the Newport reporter for The Public’s Radio. She can be reached at