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Brunswick council to consider consolidating polling places

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Brunswick council to consider consolidating polling places

BRUNSWICK — Residents in the town's seven election districts could be voting at a single location on Nov. 2.

The proposed change would reduce the town's six polling locations to one, or possibly two. The Town Council has scheduled a public hearing on the consolidation plan for its July 12 meeting.

Proposals for polling consolidation have come up several times in the last four years. In the past, the council has spurned the idea, arguing that multiple polling places encourage voter participation.

But on June 21, several councilors appeared amenable to the idea, saying that it could save the town money.

According to a memo from Town Clerk Fran Smith, consolidating the polls would save the town between $7,400 and $7,800 per election.

Smith also noted the recent shift toward increased absentee voting. During the 2008 presidential election, more than 40 percent of Brunswick voters cast absentee ballots.

Smith said more staff time is required to accommodate absentee voters. Additionally, she said, rules governing elections require the town to maintain adequate poll staffing "even as Election Day attendance dwindles."

The town relies on employees and volunteers to staff the polls. According to Smith, up to 128 poll staffers are required for major elections.

Smith's memo also highlighted several drawbacks to consolidation, including increased driving distance for some voters, particularly for those in Districts 1 and 5, which are in east Brunswick, near Cook's Corner.

Additionally, some councilors said consolidation could create a campaign circus outside a single polling place: all four of the town's seats in the Legislature are on the ballot in November, along with six seats on the School Board and Town Council.

Despite the potential drawbacks, Smith said one location could decrease voter confusion about where they're supposed to vote. Additionally, she said the town could increase absentee voting hours, including adding more Saturdays.

According to Smith, several municipalities the size of Brunswick have consolidated polling places, including Bangor, Auburn, Augusta and Saco.

She said Brunswick now has more polling places than any other town in the state.

If it supports consolidation, the council will consider several options, including moving all voting to Brunswick Junior High School on Columbia Avenue. The school now serves voters in two districts.

The town could also use the new Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School on McKeen Street when it opens in 2011.

Smith also floated the idea of using Neptune Hall, at Brunswick Naval Air Station, as a polling place. The town expects to receive the property when BNAS closes in May 2011. It's remote location might be more convenient to voters in east Brunswick, but not for downtown voters, or those in Districts 4 and 3.

For that reason, Smith said it might be wise for the council to consider two locations instead of one.

Several councilors seemed ready to support polling consolidation on June 21. Councilor Ben Tucker said he would oppose the measure because it discourages voter participation and produces little economic benefit.

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

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