BANGOR, Maine — Bangor voters will have more time to vote early and fewer things to do before getting a ballot on Election Day if the Bangor City Council approves changes submitted by the city clerk and recommended by committee.
Shortly after starting her new job as Bangor’s city clerk four months ago, Lisa Goodwin began examining almost every aspect of Bangor’s polling and election system.
The goal was to find ways to streamline the process and make things more efficient for both city workers and voters alike, as well as to lessen expenses for the city.
Now, less than three months away from a major election, Goodwin has offered several changes that the Bangor City Council’s government operations committee unanimously recommended for approval to the full council.
Chief among those changes are extended early voting hours for absentee voters, a longer early voting period, and a simplified voting process on Election Day.
“We’re going to extend the early voting hours that week before, so voters can vote early from Oct. 29 through Nov. 1, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., at the Bangor Auditorium,” said Goodwin.
Before 2011, Bangor’s absentee voters could turn in their ballots on the Friday, Saturday and Monday before Election Day.
“Most of the absentee voting we had was on Friday and Saturday before Tuesday Election Day,” Goodwin said.
But due to a change in state election law last year, that’s now a closed period when absentee voting is no longer allowed, so Goodwin wants to extend the early voting period by adding an hour each day and closing at 7 rather than 6 p.m.
“I think we lead the state in absentee voting,” Goodwin said when asked why it was so important to extend the early voting period. “We’re very proactive with early voting and I think it might be that centralized voting approach we have with everyone going to the auditorium.”
That same approach has also led several people to suggest to Goodwin and other city officials that there should be more than one polling location in Bangor.
“I know back when Patti [Dubois] was here, they did talk about it, but the one location really is the best way to do it,” Goodwin said. “When you start splitting into precincts, you start doubling, tripling or quadrupling your work.
“One location cuts down on confusion as to which polling place voters are supposed to go to and it limits staffing expenses for the city as well as the workload.”
Goodwin pointed out that absentee and early voters can also turn their ballots in at City Hall between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. each weekday up to Nov. 1.
Also, Bangor’s Community Connector bus service provides free rides to and from the Bangor Civic Center on Election Day, and golf carts — used for the first time during the June primaries — will also be used to ferry voters from the parking lot to the polling place and back. Four carts will be rented for Election Day.
The Election Day registration and check-in process at the civic center will also be revamped.
“We’ll have more people there at the check-in desk, so instead of having people sitting at a table to hand out ballots, we will have them prestuffed in envelopes ready to hand out to people as they check in,” Goodwin explained. “This way, they’ll sign in and get their ballots at the same spot.”
Bangor’s Election Day system has involved a volunteer checking a voter’s name off, having the voter sign an envelope, and then having the person take the envelope to another table to get a ballot.
Goodwin said the new system will require two fewer workers and the savings from that will offset the cost of extending early voting by one hour each day.
Goodwin also wants people to know that nomination papers will be available at the clerk’s office at City Hall starting Thursday. Papers must be turned in by Sept. 7 and candidates for one of three City Council spots and two school committee seats must collect at least 100 and no more than 150 signatures.