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Brunswick consolidates polling places at junior high school

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Brunswick consolidates polling places at junior high school

BRUNSWICK — Residents will vote at one polling place in November.

The Town Council on Monday voted 5-3 to consolidate six previous locations to one at Brunswick Junior High School.

Councilors Ben Tucker, David Watson and John Perreault opposed the decision. Councilor Margo Knight was absent.

The vote followed several comment opposing the decision from the town's all-Democratic legislative delegation. Each legislator said consolidation would limit voter participation in exchange for a small financial savings – about $7,800, according to Town Clerk Fran Smith.

"Democracy is not cheap, it's not supposed to be cheap," Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, said. "You're supposed to participate in a democracy. It's not a spectator sport."

But proponents pointed to a sharp increase in absentee voting in Brunswick and elsewhere, resulting in a corresponding need for election staff before Election Day.

During the 2008 presidential election, Smith said nearly 40 percent of Brunswick voters cast absentee ballots. According to state election records from that year, nearly 242,000 absentee ballots were cast statewide, or approximately 25 percent of the total vote.

The trend follows the state's 2000 decision to allow no-reason absentee voting. Additionally, the secretary of state has been testing early voting in several communities and may soon expand its use, a decision that has triggered alarms from some candidates who worry about election fraud and upsetting the typical campaign cycle.

According to Smith, the increase in absentee voting also means an increase in staff time to count ballots while still manning the polls on Election Day.

Smith also emphasized that staff hours wouldn't be reduced, simply shifted to meet the increased early demand. Additionally, she said, consolidating polls could reduce  confusion about where to vote.

That point was reiterated by council Chairwoman Joanne King. She refuted arguments that voters would be thrown off because they've become accustomed to voting at a localized polling place.

"District 2 voters, my district, have had to go to no less than four different locations in no less than 15 years," King said.

During the 2008 Election, residents in two of Brunswick's voting districts traveled out of their district's geographical area to cast ballots.

King also said multiple locations increase the risk of "shenanigans" among candidates.

"The campaigning gets more and more aggressive every year," she said.

King, who in the past has voted against consolidation, said her decision was an "evolutionary" one that matches voting trends.

The opposing councilors disagreed. Perreault said he was particularly concerned about congestion and lines at one location.

"I'm sure there will be a line between 4 and 7 (p.m.)," he said.

Watson, who represents District 1 in east Brunswick, said moving the location to the junior high school would force District 1 voters to travel farther than they do now.

"District 1 voters already travel 10 or 15 minutes just to get to Cook's Corner," Watson said, adding that he prefers consolidating to two or three locations.

"I find it offensive that all of us in (east Brunswick) have to go west to vote," he said.

Tucker called voting the "central act in our democratic system," and one that shouldn't be "nickeled and dimed." He also questioned whether "atomizing and economizing" voting is a good thing.

"Perhaps someday we'll vote by clicking a mouse or an iPad," Tucker said. "That may seem efficient. But I would say it's too efficient for a truly democratic system."

Ultimately, however, most councilors thought the move was the right one.

"The perception of us impeding voting, I don't think is real," Councilor Gerald Favreau said. "I would like to try this once."

The decision must still be approved by the secretary of state before going into effect in November.

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or smistler@theforecaster.net

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