ORONO, Maine — Residents and students were lined up to the town clerk’s office door Wednesday for early absentee voting, which ends Thursday for those without a special circumstance.
“I’m hoping to move past this whole nightmare and get on with my life,” resident Jeff Sanders said as he was heading into the Orono town office to vote. “I’m tired of all the play-by-play of the presidential election.”
Absentee voting is a first for Sanders and resident Melissa Kearns, who has two children in school. Kearns said Wednesday that she is voting absentee because she’s going to be out of town for work.
“I think it’s just important to be heard,” Kearns said of why she votes. “And it’s important to take part. It’s your responsibility.”
Orono has 9,247 registered voters, and by Wednesday, town staffers had handed out 1,385 absentee ballots, including 57 to residents living out of the country, which are processed by the state, according to Town Clerk Shelly Crosby, who also the registrar of voters.
“We have six more in the queue,” Crosby said about 3:30 p.m., with people still waiting to register, and others walking in the door.
With a higher-than-average turnout expected during the coming presidential and state elections, Orono town leaders agreed to move voting booths to the University of Maine’s New Balance Field House for Nov. 8.
UMaine journalism student Emily Coine said she just wanted to avoid the expected crowds on Election Day, when residents will cast ballots on the presidential race, five Maine referendums — legalizing recreational marijuana, K-12 funding, gun sale background checks, raising the minimum wage and ranked-choice voting — and a road transportation bond.
“I just feel like it’s going to be busy, and I don’t want to be in the crowds,” Coine said.
Portland, Augusta, Bangor and Brewer also are seeing high voter turnouts for early voting, staffers in those communities said.
Fellow student Darren Casey-Covell also said he just wanted to get it out of the way.
“It’s for my sanity, and maintaining it,” Casey-Covell said.
Nearly one-third of Bangor’s registered voters have already cast absentee ballots or received absentee ballots, City Clerk Lisa Goodwin said Wednesday.
“Just about 7,100” Bangor residents turned out to vote absentee at the Cross Insurance Center, said Goodwin, who added the number of registered voters in Bangor is about 22,500.
“We haven’t see this many absentees since 2008,” the Bangor city clerk said.
In Augusta, “they’re issuing them fast and furious,” City Clerk Roberta Fogg said.
“We have issued 3,222, and 2,629 have been returned,” she said.
Augusta has 13,551 registered voters, but that number is “changing daily” as people continue to register, the clerk said.
Brewer City Clerk Pam Ryan said about 4 p.m. more than 1,200 residents had been given absentee ballots.
“I haven’t stopped,” Ryan said.
It’s the same situation in the state’s biggest community.
“It’s totally crazy today, and I bet it’s going to be totally crazy tomorrow,” Portland City Clerk’s Office employee Chris Horne said Wednesday.
Orono’s decision to move voting to UMaine has upset some residents. One woman who was standing in line to vote at the town office and asked not to be identified said she didn’t think it was a good move because some older local residents are “intimidated by anything on the university.”
Crosby said the town is working with UMaine to ensure voting runs smoothly. The entire parking lot beside the football field, called the North Gym Lot, will be set aside for voter parking, and 12 parking spots for people with disabilities will be available in the Corbett Lot, which is directly across the street from the field house entrance, Crosby said.
“We are going to have curbside [parking] available” for those with restrictions, she said.
UMaine is providing a parking attendant on Election Day and people who feel uncomfortable driving on campus can park in the municipal lot by the town office and ride the bus to campus, Crosby said.
The Black Bear Orono Express, which picks up people on Mill Street and will drop them off at the field house every 15 minutes on Election Day, is free for residents to use, as is the Community Connector, which is offering free rides to residents in Bangor, Brewer, Hampden, Old Town, Orono and Veazie on Election Day.
To vote absentee after Thursday, voters must complete a special circumstances application that states one of four reasons for the accommodation, including unexpected absence, physical disability, inability to travel to the polls or incapacity because of illness that has resulted in the voter being unable to leave a treatment facility.
Whether people vote early or on Election Day doesn’t matter, Sanders said, adding that he does it because it’s his civic duty.
“My vote counted,” he said.