The state Board of Elections convened Friday morning with one goal to settle the ongoing debate around the polling place at the Park Holm Senior Center in Newport.

Last week, the Newport Canvassing Authority voted to relocate the polling place to Pell Elementary School, which is less than a quarter-mile away. After twenty Newport residents submitted written complaints, the local board met again on Tuesday to reconsider the issue, but ended up confirming its previous decision by a 2-1 vote.

Members of the Newport Canvassing Authority said the confined size of Park Holm would pose COVID-related health risks to voters and poll workers. The site also has limited indoor space for voters waiting in line.

A number of locals countered that the change could confuse voters in the neighborhood many of whom are low-income or people of color. Others worried that sending more voters to Pell Elementary School, which is already the designated polling place for a different Newport precinct, would be unsafe and could go against CDC guidance.

Ultimately, the state Board of Elections’ unanimous decision to open the Park Holm polling place also came down to a legal technicality a Rhode Island statute that requires local boards to have unanimous approval to assign voters to a polling place in a different precinct.

“It wasn’t a unanimous determination, so I don’t know how this is before us,” said Louis DeSimone, a member of the state Board of Elections. “I don’t think they can properly move the polling place without a unanimous decision, and certainly they don’t have that. So I don’t believe they can move it.”

The Board of elections staff received 35 emails and a letter from the Rhode Island ACLU in support of reopening Park Holm. According to Robert Rapoza, the executive director of the Board of Elections, his staff did not receive any emails in support of moving the polling place.


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