Silver lining in polling traffic jam

Boy, Merrimack town leaders messed up pretty good on Tuesday.

A new traffic pattern near the town’s single polling place at Merrimack High School, led to huge traffic headaches for thousands of voters. Drivers reported waits of as much as an hour to get to the polls and cars clogged nearby Daniel Webster Highway and Baboosic Lake Road. At least some would-be voters turned around and got on living their lives without ever casting their ballot.

One woman, Rebecca Mimms, said she was turned away at the polls after trying a second time to get through traffic.

"I love the town, but I can’t believe it was so bad," she said. "When I finally got to the school I was told, ‘Sorry, we’re closed’ and they shut the door on me."

The traffic jam was bad enough to make make national headlines on several news sites, including CNN and MSN, whose headline read "When a N.H. town of 19,000 has one polling place," referring to the number of registered voters in town rather than the actual population.

That’s bad – really bad – but Merrimack residents can also find a lot to inspire confidence in their elected officials in this story. Namely the way many of them stood up and took responsibility for what happened. They fairly tripped over one another to do so.

"We have to acknowledge the legitimate and justified anger of the citizens," Merrimack Town Council Chairwoman Nancy Harrington said. "There is a collective responsibility for what happened last night. Bottom line is it shouldn’t have happened. We apologize to the citizens. They need to know we have already had an initial discussion."

"The situation on Tuesday was unacceptable and I apologize to those voters who were left in the traffic situation that we created. My goal has always been to make sure that everyone who is eligible to vote has the opportunity to do so and it is deeply concerning to me that some were not able to do so," Moderator Lynn Christensen said on the popular Merrimack Forum Facebook page.

"As a Town Councilor, I am accountable for what I do or don’t do as a councilor. I am always accessible to you when things are good and when things are bad.

And, as an elected official, I accept responsibility for the traffic problems that occurred on Election Day," Councilor Bill Boyd wrote in a forum post that included his phone number and email. "I sincerely apologize to all of you that were inconvenienced and frustrated by the traffic congestion in Merrimack."

The town issued a statement on its website and included a link for residents to send their input and suggestions to make the process better next time.

In all, it’s exactly how you would want your town officials to react after a mistake is made.

Too often it can be forgotten that our city councilors and ballot clerks and zoning board members are really just our neighbors. They volunteer their time and expertise and they make the occasional mistake.

Merrimack residents should count themselves lucky their town leaders are willing to take responsibility for their mistakes.