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Crowd blasts lack of polling spots

One per ward won't work -- and isn't fair.

That was the message about polling places delivered to the Lackawanna School Board on Wednesday night, during a meeting crowded with seniors, homeowners and members of the city's minority groups.

The residents delivered a united -- and strong -- message to the School Board, telling school officials that one polling place per ward in the city is not acceptable to residents for the upcoming May budget and school election vote.

One voting place per ward -- for a total of four polling places in the city of slightly more than 18,000 people -- was recently established by the School Board as the plan for the May 15 vote.

In recent years, there have been eight polling places for school votes. Before that, there were even more.

"Having four polling sites in the entire city is unfair -- to the elderly, to the handicapped, to those unable to drive," said resident Mohamed Albanna. "We're urging you to change the position you have taken, and allow voters to exercise their constitutional right to vote."

Residents especially focused on the situation in the First Ward, where the lone polling place would be located in a spot difficult to access for many residents.

"You gentlemen and ladies know Lackawanna," said John Ingram of Church Street. "You know the problems getting to the polling sites. What you did was wrong. You're denying the voting rights of residents -- especially minorities."

Andrea Haxton, a Bethlehem Park resident whose family has lived in the same First Ward home for four generations, held up a yellow sign reading: "BOE of LSD: Would You Walk Over a Mile to Vote? Voter Suppression."

"It's retaliation for us voting no for the budget last year," Haxton said, of her views on why the board decided to change the polling places this year. "But we can't afford it."

Some 75 residents attended the one-hour meeting in the Martin Road Elementary School.

During the meeting, School Board members voted to authorize the district's attorney, Carl Morgan, to pursue an Article 78 proceeding against the city's Common Council, over an issue in which the city body tabled a request from the schools to use a certain site as a polling place in the First Ward for the May vote. Article 78 is the statute under which the actions of public bodies can be appealed.

The school budget of slightly more than $45 million, as well as three seats on the School Board, will be put before voters, said Morgan.

School Board members made no public statement about the polling places at the meeting.

The inception of the Article 78 action bothered some in the audience, including City Council President Hank Pirowski.

"It's very unfortunate that this School Board found it necessary to pursue an Article 78," Pirowski told the board. "I think it's a waste of taxpayer dollars. Pirowski said the Council tabled the request at a mid-April meeting.