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Maine's pilot program opens voting booths early for residents of Falmouth, Cumberland

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Maine's pilot program opens voting booths early for residents of Falmouth, Cumberland

FALMOUTH — Registered voters in Falmouth and Cumberland now have the opportunity to vote early, thanks to the state's Early Voting Pilot Program.

The two communities are among nine selected by the state to participate in the program that began on Monday and will run through Monday, Nov. 2.

Different from absentee balloting, early voting allows residents to use the polling booths and cast ballots in the same manner as on Election Day. The ballots are inserted directly into the ballot box and will be tallied along with those cast on Nov. 3.

Results of a short survey given to early voters will be compiled by the secretary of state's office to determine the program's popularity with the public, with an eye to bringing it to the Legislature as a constitutional amendment possibly next year, Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn said Monday.

The program was first piloted in 2007 in the state, at polling places in Portland, Bangor and Readfield, Flynn said. While voters' response was positive, the push to get the two-thirds majority of the Legislature needed to amend the state Constitution split along party lines and the measure failed, Flynn said. In a study the department conducted in 2007, more than a dozen states already had a provision for early voting.

"I think we certainly felt the pilot we did in 2007 really gave us enough data," Flynn said. "Voters loved it, clerks demonstrated they could have good security and process ballots more efficiently – it's secure and easy for voters and more efficient for towns. We felt we didn't need another pilot, but since the Legislature didn't want to go that route, we opened it up to more towns and more voters; this will give it another great trial."

Falmouth Town Clerk Ellen Planer said she thinks the work, and therefore the cost, for municipalities will be reduced if early voting replaces a lot of the absentee voting that now takes place.

"There's so much tracking involved with absentee ballots," she said. "You have to have the (absentee ballot) request, put it into the computer, track where the ballot is, file it, store it and process it."

Cumberland Town Clerk Nadeen Daniels said the 75 voters that have used early voting so far indicated they thought the program was wonderful and hoped it would become law. Positive reaction centered around no lines, no parking problems and, significantly, no on-site pressure from petitioners or political candidates.

"They very much like that calm, serene voting atmosphere today versus the hustle and bustle of Election Day," Daniels said.

Municipalities across Maine were given the opportunity to apply for the pilot program in September. They were required to have a dedicated space for the week of early voting and to offer the voting at all times their town halls are open, Flynn said. A dozen communities applied; three small towns were not accepted because their procedure is to count the ballots by hand, she said.

Early voting began Monday, Oct. 26. Falmouth residents may vote early at Town Hall until 5 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 28; from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 29; from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 31, and from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday, Nov. 2. On Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, voting will take place at Falmouth High School from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

In Cumberland, early voting at Town Hall is until 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 28; from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday and Monday, Oct. 29 and Nov. 2, and 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Oct. 31. Location of Cumberland polls on Election Day is at Town Hall from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or proberts@theforecaster.net.