After complaints, Bangor may try to improve voter access

Bangor residents cast their votes early in October 2008.
Gabor Degre | BDN
Bangor residents cast their votes early in October 2008.
Posted Dec. 27, 2011, at 10:05 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — While most of the councilors who weighed in Tuesday concluded that it wouldn’t be prudent to set up a second voting location, they did agree that some tweaks could make the Civic Center easier for the elderly and people with limited mobility to access.

Some of those improvements could include making wheelchairs or transport chairs available to those who need them, allowing handicapped parking closer to the entrance and bringing golf carts to Bass Park on Election Day to shuttle voters to and from the large parking lot.

Councilors plan to revisit the matter in February and might asked to public to weigh in the next month.

As it stands, handicapped parking spaces are located a relatively long distance from the Civic Center’s handicapped-accessible entrance and the only wheelchair available at the Civic Center is a 1962 model, councilors noted during a meeting of the City Council’s Government Operations Committee.

“If it’s easier to go to Walmart or Shop ’n Save than it is to vote, then I think we need to take a look at that,” said Councilor James Gallant, one of six council members who took part in Tuesday night’s committee meeting.

Bangor once had nine voting sites — four wards, each split into two precincts, and a central polling site at City Hall.

That system, however, was costly, cumbersome for staff and confusing to voters, City Clerk Patti Dubois noted during Tuesday’s meeting.

In 2006, councilors streamlined the number to four, those being the civic center, Bangor Community Center on Davis Road, Bangor High School and William S. Cohen Middle School.

Three years later, the councilors decided to take the plunge and voted to consolidate all election action — including absentee voting — at the Civic Center.

The discussion about the city’s sole voting location came before the Government Operations Committee at the request of Councilor Joseph Baldacci, who noted that as many as 16,000 to 18,000 residents are expected to vote in next year’s presidential election — the first to be held since the city went to the single voting venue.

Baldacci also said that he had heard from some voters who encountered less than ideal accessibility at the Civic Center.

Given that, he wondered if the city should add another polling place, such as Bangor High School and William S. Cohen School on the city’s East Side. The suggestion, however, drew little support from his council colleagues or from resident William Sullivan, who has served on two committees appointed in recent years to streamline voting locations.

Sullivan noted that voting traditions in Maine have changed dramatically in the last decade, with more than half of the Bangor’s residents now choosing to vote early by means of absentee ballots as opposed to turning up at the polls on Election Day.

Dubois noted that the single venue system has improved efficiency, eliminated confusion over where to vote, requires fewer voting machines and allows the city to keep election activity out of the city’s schools.

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