Bangor council votes to make civic center sole voting venue

Posted Feb. 09, 2009, at 11:13 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Beginning with a special election later this June, all Bangor voters will be required to cast ballots either by absentee or in person at the Bangor Civic Center.

City councilors voted 6-1 on Monday night to consolidate the city’s four polling places into one location.

Clerk Patti Dubois, who brought the recommendation to the City Council, said the pros — namely efficiency, reduced confusion and cost savings — outweighed any concerns about travel and traditions.

Only Councilor Hal Wheeler opposed consolidation. He suggested to Dubois that the city wait one year before making the decision.

The clerk, however, pointed out that now is a good time to make the change because the next two elections, in June and November, will feature relatively low turnout.

“This gives us time to work out any kinks,” Dubois said. “2010 would not be a good year to make changes.”

A number of residents spoke in favor of consolidation at Monday’s City Council meeting.

Donald Lewis, a Broadway resident who served on the city’s polling realignment committee, said he initially opposed the idea but eventually came around. Bill Sullivan, a member of the same committee, favored having only one polling place from the beginning.

“Voters are moving away from conventional voting in droves,” he said, referring to the steady increase, particularly in Bangor, of absentee voting.

Steven Butterfield, a newly elected state representative for House District 16 in Bangor, expressed concerns about shrinking the number of polling places. He said when the city consolidated from eight to four polling places in 2006, it was the right call.

“This proposal, I believe, does not fit that measure of balancing need against means,” he said.

Butterfield said the change could negatively affect voter turnout, specifically in some of the city’s low-income neighborhoods, and could lead to longer wait times. He also said the increase in absentee voting will level off at some point and wondered whether one site could handle such a large volume.

Dubois agreed that absentee voting will level off, but she said the city is well-equipped to handle in-person voters at the civic center, even during a high-turnout election.

She also said one polling place will allow the city to address any problems in a much more timely fashion and will modestly reduce Election Day costs, mostly by decreasing the number of polling workers needed.

With Monday’s decision, the city will no longer use the Bangor High School, the William S. Cohen School and the Bangor Community Center on Davis Road for elections.

erussell@bangordailynews.net

990-8167

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