Councilors agreed to a “test” run to combine four of the voting five wards into a single location at the American Legion Hall during the regular city council meeting April 17.

City Clerk Denise Beckett told councilors she contacted local American Legion officials and received a positive response regarding making the building the sole polling location for November elections.

Ward five voters will continue to vote in East Belfast.

Councilor Michael Hurley raised a concern about parking availability at the legion hall.

“We need to make sure we close that parking lot and let it be known it’s only for election parking,” Hurley said. “We should make sure we have 10 to 15 spaces available. That’s my only concern.”

During the last presidential election in 2008, 3,803 registered voters cast a ballot, Beckett said. Currently, there are 4,511 active voters registered in the city and 273 inactive voters.

“When I order my ballots I have to factor in the inactive voters, too,” Beckett said. “The state requires we order at least enough ballots for 75 percent of the voting population.”

Every 10 years the state suggests the city review voter registration numbers in each of the five wards, and, if necessary, reorganize the wards so the voting populations are more evenly distributed.

“Wards four and five were reorganized in the mid-2000s to make sure voter populations were even,” Beckett said.

Councilor Eric Sanders said he feels polls located at the Boathouse, as in the past, are not the best idea.

“I think the legion is a good move,” he said.

During a phone interview, Beckett said when she was working the polls in Ward 5 she never understood why the city needed three polling locations. Combining wards one, two, three and four into one location is more convenient for election staff to handle the behind-the-scenes work that goes on before and after an election, she said.

“There’s a lot of work that we do that people never see,” Beckett said

The discussion about consolidating wards has been an ongoing discussion for several years but no action had been taken, according to Beckett. At the urging of City Manager Joseph Slocum, Beckett again approached the city council about consolidating the four of the five wards.

“We have to test certain equipment before each election, so sometime before June 12, I have to set up at the three polling locations and test the equipment. Then I have to take everything down and set it up again on June 12,” Beckett said.

She also noted councilors said having a single polling location near Belfast City Hall would be appropriate during a previous city council meeting in early April. Hurley pointed out that it would be easy to redirect any voters who showed up at city hall.

The city will have to receive approval from the state to relocate the polling location to the American Legion Hall, located at 143 Church St., which means the first test at the new location would take place during the November elections. Beckett told councilors she would have to file a 13-page accessibility report with the state but said she doesn’t foresee any issues with the location.

“We’re hoping to use the June elections to communicate to the public about the new polling location in November,” Beckett said. “I know there will be some issues with eleventh hour voters who show up at the Boathouse with 10 minutes left to vote and realize they are supposed to be at a different location.”

Hurley said the decision to combine wards is not a matter of eliminating anything. Instead, it is the council deciding to try something new, he said.

“I think November will be a good test,” Hurley said.

The City Council unanimously approved the consolidation.

Reporter Ben Holbrook can be reached at 338-3333 or bholbrook@villagesoup.com.