Fresh Idea on Voting

Posted Dec. 22, 2008, at 7:07 p.m.

Bangor city councilors are wise to seriously consider consolidating voting at one location, the city-owned Bangor Civic Center. The proposal came from City Clerk Patti Dubois, who brought it before the city finance committee. The full council is expected to take up the proposal, and it will be the subject of a public hearing before any council vote comes on making the change.

Whether it wins support or not, such fresh thinking about the nature of local government is commendable. Municipalities, counties, the state and federal government would do well to think in similar veins about how to scale back services without unduly hurting residents. The centralized voting idea will affect Bangor residents, but the individual sacrifices they would have to make pale in comparison to the collective savings the city stands to achieve.

Four years ago, the city, acting on the clerk’s suggestion, cut polling places from eight to four. By most accounts, the reconfigured voting centers have worked well, once residents learned where they vote in the new arrangement. A single voting place would further simplify the process, if admittedly meaning that some residents would have to travel farther to vote than other residents.

Key to the success of the new system is encouraging more early voting — which is actually in-person absentee ballot voting. Last month’s election saw residents of Bangor — and voters around the country — using this method in great numbers. About 80 percent of Bangor’s registered voters cast ballots, and half of those used the in-person absentee ballot method. Maine’s voter participation, at 54 percent, was third highest in the nation, which could be seen as further testimony to the effectiveness of early voting.

If the council approves the change as proposed, the single polling place would be used only during special elections, such as in June. But if the process works well then, the city ought to think about using the civic center as the sole voting site in all elections. The civic center offers easy vehicle access and ample parking; spacious ground level rooms; and bathrooms.

The city ought to commend Ms. Dubois for thinking about ways to help the city streamline its operation, and should encourage others at City Hall to do the same.

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