DERRY — Town officials continue to study the best way to host both the primary and general election safely and properly this fall.
A new committee is now in place, working on details and other logistics as to what the election season could look like amid coronavirus pandemic challenges.
That could include having a single polling place for both the September primary and November general elections.
The group is made up of town officials, police and fire representatives, and school officials, meeting to talk all things elections, safety and integrity of the community's voting process.
Town Councilor Jim Morgan, a member of the committee, gave an update at a Town Council meeting June 16.
The town has traditionally used three polling locations for its four districts — Calvary Bible Church, West Running Brook Middle School, and Gilbert H. Hood Middle School — catering to the community's 22,000-plus registered voters.
Voter turnout, especially in November, could top 18,000 ballots cast, but September's primary could be much less as per traditional numbers in the past. That could make using one polling spot at Calvary Bible Church, suitable, especially since the Derry Cooperative School District's calendar said school is in session Sept. 8, primary election day.
The moderator noted having school in session on that September election day, and with so many unknowns about if and how schools would reopen, a situation could arise where the two middle school gyms and libraries may be unavailable for election staff and voting spaces if schools needed that added space for safely distanced classrooms.
For the November general election, more turnout is expected, and having Pinkerton Academy be the lone polling location could work as per safety guidelines, and making sure voters are able to cast ballots in a smooth, safe manner. There is no school that day.
Police officials say a portion of Bypass 28 between Tsienneto Road and Pinkerton's lower campus at Pinkerton Street could possibly be closed on election day, Nov. 3 to aid in the flow of voter traffic.
Councilor Brian Chirichiello said he expects some voter concerns about the changes in the traditional polling locations.
"I know we are going to get some kickback," he said. "If we go down this road, we need to be prepared."
Officials will also strongly urge the community's voters to take advantage of absentee ballot voting.
"That could streamline the process," Councilor Jim Morgan said.
Councilor Neil Wetherbee agreed.
"That is really the largest solution to this problem," he said.
Getting information out to residents about election day processes should also be done sooner rather than later, councilors said, adding signs, messaging, and other venues for information getting out will be put to use. And consistency between September and November elections is key.
The new committee will continue to meet to study election logistics, safety, and what measures will be put in place for protection, whether it's plexiglass partitions between ballot workers and voters, outside registration, or other ways to make sure all guidelines are followed. The Town Council will get more updated details at its next meeting in July for how to move forward with the fall election process. That will most likely include a more official decision on the polling locations.