Voting delays lead to questions about Brunswick's single polling place

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BRUNSWICK — Voters came out in droves last week, resulting in one of the town’s largest turnouts for a gubernatorial election in recent years.

But long lines and delays at the town’s only polling station, Brunswick Junior High School on Columbia Avenue, led at least one town councilor to suggest reconsideration of the town’s election practices.

According to the town clerk’s office, almost 62 percent of registered voters – 10,163 people – went to the polls on Nov. 4, eclipsing the 2010 election turnout by almost 1,000 voters.

“It was a wonderful turnout across the state,” Town Clerk Fran Smith said. “I don’t think Brunswick was unique, I think it was huge everywhere.”

Election workers were kept busy all day and were nearly overwhelmed by the number of residents who poured into the polls for about an hour and a half during the evening rush.

At one point, Smith said, voters were briefly prevented from getting ballots, to give election workers time to clear out some of those who were already inside, waiting to cast their votes. 

Brunswick consolidated its seven district polling sites into a central station in 2010, in a move aimed at saving money and centralizing the staff needed to count absentee ballots.

At the time, the town’s legislative delegation and some councilors expressed opposition to the move.

But after watching hundreds of voters form a line outside the school last week, Councilor David Watson said he intends to bring the situation up to the council.

“To allow this to continue, in my opinion, is ludicrous,” Watson said.

Watson represents District 1 in East Brunswick. He voted against consolidation four years ago, and supported a proposal floated last year to move the polling station to Brunswick Landing.

Public safety at the school is his primary concern Watson said. Voters lined up across a poorly lit parking lot and meandering through traffic on nearby streets were anxiety-producing for him as a former police officer, he said.

The possible damage being done to the wooden floors of the school’s gymnasium should also be taken into account, Watson added.

“It’s a question the Town Council has to address and address fairly soon, before the next presidential election,” he said.

From all accounts, however, polling throughout the day, while steady, went smoothly until the rush-hour crush starting at around 5 p.m.

According to Smith, a “perfect storm” of people getting out of work and Bowdoin College students arriving after classes created the voting bottleneck.

This is the first year since consolidation that there have been issues at the polls, Smith added. Even in years with a extremely high turnout, like the 2012 presidential election, there was nothing like some of the problems witnessed last week, she said.

New ballot-reading machines the town used, which have a seconds-long delay between feeding ballots through the machine and recording votes, could have contributed to some of the back-ups witnessed at the polls, Smith said.

Maine towns received the machines last year, but this is the first time they have been used in a big election, leading Smith to suggest the machines were the variable that threw off the system.

At the height of the busiest period, voters were being given the option to put their ballots in a sealed box to be counted after the polls closed, Smith added. 

“In hindsight, we certainly could have asked to lease additional machines for the polling station,” where the town had six in use, she said.

Town staff also intend to review the elections and see where there are areas that could be improved for next time, Smith said. 

Overall, Smith congratulated Brunswick voters for turning out so strongly, and also lauded election workers who quickly adapted to the polling challenges and made the process as efficient as possible. 

“I couldn’t ask for people to give any more than they gave,” she said. 

Peter L. McGuire can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or pmcguire@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter @mcguiremidcoast.

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Voters line up outside the polling station at Brunswick Junior High School on Nov. 4, where delays were common.

Wilson

Wilson promises ‘common-sense’ approach on Brunswick council

BRUNSWICK — After taking time to reflect on her victory last week, incoming at-large Town Councilor Kathy Wilson said she did not have any defined goals for her three-year term, but wants to learn as much as she can before getting sworn into office in January. 

“I don’t know what the answers are,” Wilson said in an interview this week. “I figure my job is to really look into the issues and find that out.”

Wilson won a large margin, defeating John Portella 5,191 to 3,142.

A lifelong Brunswick resident, Wilson, 69, operates a pet-grooming business out of her Pleasant Street home. Although she has served on several town committees, Wilson has never held elected office. 

Wilson said she hopes to bring a “commons-sense, down-to-earth” approach to the council, which like other decision-making bodies, can become “lost in the process” on some issues.

“Nothing is ever as simple as it looks,” she said, adding that decisions need to be made with consideration to how they might impact other areas. “You have to look at the big picture.”

Wilson will replace current Council Chairman Benet Pols, who did not seek re-election. 

She is joined by newcomer Dan Harris, who beat longtime Councilor Gerry Favreau in District 5.

— Peter McGuire

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