May 24, 2018
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Bangor likely to reduce number of polling sites

By Eric Russell, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — An ordinance amendment that would reduce the number of polling places in Bangor from four to one appears headed toward approval by the City Council.

Eight of nine city councilors attended a finance committee meeting on Monday to discuss the proposal that was first brought forth last December by City Clerk Patti Dubois. Not every councilor was 100 percent convinced that consolidation is a good idea, but at least five indicated they would support it at next week’s council meeting.

Susan Hawes was one of those who said she would likely support the change, but she also indicated she would like more input from residents who so far have been relatively quiet.

Dubois agreed that she hasn’t gotten much feedback since she first began researching the idea of opening only the Bangor Civic Center during elections. She said she’s not sure what else she can do but implored Bangor voters to attend the public hearing that will be held during the next City Council meeting. The meeting is set to begin at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 9.

City Manager Edward Barrett said, historically, residents hesitate to voice their opinions until a decision is imminent. Also, because the next election isn’t until June, and it’s only a special election, voters are not necessarily paying close attention.

It was only four years ago that Bangor reduced the number of city polling places from eight to four. At that time, the idea of having one polling place was discussed, but it was quickly dismissed, Dubois said.

However, as absentee voting has increased in popularity (about 50 percent of all Bangor voters cast absentee ballots in November 2008), Dubois again brought up the idea of consolidation only for special elections. This time around, councilors liked the idea so much, they asked the clerk to explore one voting place for all elections.

So, Dubois researched voting trends in Bangor and consulted with other communities that have consolidated in recent years. An ad-hoc polling realignment committee of local residents, warden clerks and others discussed the matter at length last month and recommended that the City Council approve consolidation.

Charlie Birkel, a member of the polling realignment committee, worried that the polling place reduction might be too dramatic a change for the city. He lobbied for more public hearings before the council makes a hasty decision.

Bill Sullivan, also a member of the committee, called the consolidation prospect exciting.

“For the most part, change has been embraced by the people of Bangor,” he said.

During Monday’s meeting, councilors did express some concerns related to transportation and the increase in candidates and petitioners that would converge on a single polling place. In most cases, though, the promise of increased efficiency, reduced confusion and lower costs outweighed any negatives.

Richard Stone, chairman of the finance committee, said he plans to support the staff recommendation in large part because of Dubois, who has earned a reputation as a knowledgeable and tireless municipal clerk.

Every other councilor who spoke also took time to praise Dubois.

“I’m not going to tell you which way I plan to vote,” said Hal Wheeler. “But I’m very impressed with the case you have made.”

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