EAST GREENWICH—The town council heard from a representative of Playtime at the Polls on Monday, who is seeking to set up an interactive supervisory area for children at a polling place in town during the next election. That representative, Meg Carnaroli, made the case that providing such a service at the polls would help to inform children about the civic process as well as ease the stress of busy parents.
“It’s been a really big hit, there’s crayons and arts and crafts, and it teaches kids about the civic process and also gives parents a chance to concentrate on their ballots. We are endorsed by the Secretary of the State,” Carnaroli said. “We are insured, we background check all of our volunteers, and I am here tonight to see if we can get the support of the town council. If we can show that there is a need and a want in the town, we should make this happen in East Greenwich.”
Playtime at the Polls is a Rhode Island-based non-profit that partners with local boards of canvassers to offer grant-funded opportunities to towns to implement a voting-themed playspace for children at polling places. The initiative is meant to serve parents who might otherwise pay for childcare services, and to help children develop a better sense of just what voting is. Council member Caryn Corenthal endorsed the program and suggested that the board of canvassers should consider working with the nonprofit.
“I got a letter from [representative] Goldin about the program, and I agree that it is a great program,” Corenthal said. “There’s no cost to the town, they have their own liability, they just do one polling place, probably Swift, all the volunteers complete background checks. We’re talking about maybe 15 minutes of kids being with that, and parents only leave their kids if they want to.”
“I have sent along my support to the board of canvassers,” Corenthal added.
Town manager Andrew Nota broke down some of the more problematic elements of the program that might need to be overcome, however, and highlighted that the next presidential election is expected to have a significant turnout, and polling areas may not be the best space to disrupt the normal flow of operations.
“There is some liability protection, it’s not all-encompassing but it is a minimum. For me it’s a matter of working out logistically where our board of canvassers are, who are [at the polls] for a reason, they are there to manage an election,” Nota said. “This is a good program. It makes it easier for parents with younger kids to get out and vote. But there are other options like emergency voting, or early voting. There are a number of ways of looking at it.”
“We also need to consider that in a larger community where we have five or 10 polling places, this service is only at one, it is not available equally to everybody,” Nota added.
When asked for her opinion on the issue, town clerk Leigh Carney dissented from the idea that a playplace in the middle of the polls would be a useful expenditure of time and energy.
“I am not in favor of it. I think there are many options for parents that struggle with childcare. You have 11 hours to vote during the day. You have options to vote early. If you really want to teach your children the democratic process or about elections, what better way than to actually have them with you as you go throughout the process?” Carney said. “It’s an election. I don’t want anything to go wrong. But I am really excited to talk more about it.”
The council will be deliberating on whether to endorse Playtime at the Polls throughout the week.