If Mitt Romney votes at his hometown precinct, Belmont will be ready.
On Tuesday night, Police Chief Richard McLaughlin and Assistant Chief James MacIsaac presented their plans for dealing with the crush of media and security that follows the Republican presidential candidate wherever he goes. They spoke to about 30 Belmont voters at the Beech Street Center, where Romney may be voting on Nov. 6.
“Whatever you believe or not, whatever your political affiliation is, I don’t see this as a bad thing for our town,” said McLaughlin. “He has every right to vote here as I do, as you do. And were gonna do this, and we’re gonna make it as normal as we can. So that everybody can enjoy their rights.”
The Romney campaign has not told the town whether Romney will definitely be voting in Belmont, according to police. The campaign did not respond to requests for comment. Romney voted at the Beech Street Center during the primaries, and the chaos of reporters, news trucks and security brought traffic to a standstill.
The town has since learned from its mistakes, said MacIsaac.
Unless police hear before Nov. 6 that Romney will not be voting in Belmont, they will begin closing streets and putting up no parking signs late on the night of Nov. 5 on some roads around the Beech Street Center. Residents will still be allowed through, they said.
On Nov. 6, Waverley Street from Beech Street to Harris Street will be closed to through traffic. There will be reserved areas for media and for voters. Cars parked illegally will be towed, said MacIsaac, and the police will have extra personnel working to keep things moving smoothly. If Romney wants to hold a press conference, he can do it on the playing field behind the Beech Street Center.
Police said they felt their plan would keep residents safe and voting running smoothly, but that they expected to have to "adapt, improvise and overcome" on Election Day.
“I do want you to understand,” said MacIsaac, loosely quoting Eisenhower. “Plans are great and they’re an absolute necessity, but when the battle starts, they go to hell.”
Residents were concerned that the glut of media vehicles would block their roads, and that the commotion of Romney’s presence would keep them from voting.
“I don’t want to be held back from the polls just because some great politician is coming here to vote,” said one voter who declined to give his name.
“Voting is a Walt Whitman moment, you hear America singing,” said Sharon Sokol, who lives on Waverley Street with her husband. “It’s the only opportunity you have every four years when people from different walks of life show up and you’re doing the same thing at the same time.”
It would be a shame, she said, if Romney’s appearance made voting difficult.
Sokol said that she is epileptic, and is worried that the flashing lights from all the extra security could trigger a seizure. Romney, she said, should consider voting by absentee ballot.
Evan Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.