It’s one of the stranger rituals of Boston politics: For each Election Day, a pristine ballot box is cleaned, filled with fresh ink, and force-fed at least 50 test ballots before being lugged to a seaside precinct where nobody will vote.It’s the lonely machine,’’ said Loretta Paulding, the election warden in charge of Ward 1, Precinct 15, for the last 15 years. “But I do have to keep an eye on it. And at the end of the night, I still have to tally up zero, zero, zero.’’
This phantom precinct, made up of Boston’s Harbor Islands, where no ballots have been cast in the last four elections, is a quirk of the city’s intricate electoral landscape, which because of an obscure legal exemption has not been redrawn in almost a century. The archaic system will be on display again today, when Boston voters go to the polls to elect a mayor and City Council.
Critics argue that the antiquated structure should be reorganized and streamlined to reduce the number of precincts, an overhaul that would require fewer poll workers and police officers and save taxpayers an estimated extra $100,000 per election, according to MassVOTE, a nonpartisan voting rights group. The current, lopsided structure leaves the busiest ballot boxes with more than 2,300 voters during some elections, while other precincts have far fewer.
“This one little voting place is so out of whack that it is an indication that all the precincts in Boston are in need of adjustment,’’ said Avi Green, executive director of MassVOTE. “They all need to catch up with the last 100 years of demographics and history in our city.’’