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Use of city building for School Board election tabled

A legal notice in a local weekly newspaper already indicated that the Bocce Court, a city-owned building in Lackawanna's Bethlehem Park section, would be the sole polling place for residents of the 1st Ward in the May 15 School Board elections.

It now appears that the April 4 notice was premature.

The city routinely provides the Lackawanna School District access to its buildings for elections.

But it was only Monday that the district officially approached the City Council with its request to use the Bocce Court facility at 175 Madison Ave.

And this time, the Council took the unusual step of tabling the district's request, potentially putting the district in an awkward bind.

Council members and residents expressed concern that having just one polling site would prevent many residents in the 1st Ward from voting.

The School Board will have to address the issue at its meeting tonight, when it also expects to adopt a 2012-13 proposed school budget.

With just five weeks until the election, the district might not have enough time to properly advertise polling places in the legal notices of its official newspapers, the Front Page and the Am-Pol Eagle.

State law requires that districts notify voters of polling sites at least six times before the election. Both the Front Page and the Am-Pol Eagle are weekly newspapers.

A single polling site in Bethlehem Park for 1st Ward residents would shut out voters who don't live in that area, which is separated from the rest of the 1st Ward by Smoke's Creek and accessible only from Route 5, said residents and Council members.

The 1st Ward is the most impoverished area of the city, and many residents do not have cars.

"It's unreasonable to think that people could walk down Route 5 to go to a polling place in Bethlehem Park," said Henry Pirowski, Council president.

The Council voted, 4-0, to table the district's request to use the Bocce Court facility.

In an interview after the meeting, Pirowski said the lone polling site in the 1st Ward "seems like disenfranchisement to me."

"I'm not going to concur with something I think is wrong," he said. "I don't agree with it."

Pirowski planned to express his concern to the School Board at its meeting tonight.

"This is not fair to the residents of the 1st Ward," added 1st Ward Councilman Abdul Noman, who suggested that the district add either St. Anthony Church on Ingham Avenue or the Yemenite Benevolent Association on Ridge Road as polling places.

First Ward resident John Ingram said he and others will ask the state Education Department to intervene if the district doesn't change its plans.

"They want to control the vote," said Ingram. "It's purposely being done to control the vote, in particular the minority vote."

The 1st Ward has a large population of Arab-Americans and African-Americans.

The district used to have two polling sites for each of the city's four wards.