By Zendelle Bouchard
At the November 8, 2023 City Council meeting, a public hearing was held on City Clerk Sue Cote’s proposal to consolidate Sanford and Springvale’s three wards in to one, and the three polling locations to one. The proposed new single polling place would be at Veterans Memorial Gym, 678 Main St. The deadline for making these changes before the next election is December 6, 2023.
Cote said when she started in the Clerk’s office there were seven wards and seven polling places in town. With the adoption of the City Charter in 2012, that was reduced to five. When the State Representative districts were redone in 2014, she reduced it to three polling places and wards. Now she would like to consolidate all voting in one location to make it easier to find enough staff and so residents would always know where to vote. There would be cost savings to the City with the school budget referendum, which always has a low turnout. She said at busy Presidential elections, staff would be able to handle the volume with more lines for check-in and more voting machines. She noted that Westbrook, Waterville and Bangor each have a single voting location.
City Manager Steve Buck read an email from State Rep. Anne-Marie Mastraccio in favor of the proposal. She wrote that she has long been an advocate for this plan. He also read two emails in opposition, both stating that the change would create a hardship for people who have to walk.
Councilor Pete Tranchemontagne read an email from a constituent who wrote that with the slim margin of victory in many elections, discouraging even a small percentage of voters could affect the outcome of future elections. Councilor Jonathan Martell read another email from a resident who wrote that people without transportation would be discouraged from voting.
Springvale resident Jim Deyermond said the City has not exhausted all avenues to attract poll workers and was concerned about the safety of the front steps and the adequacy of the single, small elevator for handicapped access. Parks and Recreation Director Brady Lloyd responded that he anticipates the front steps to be repaired in the next few weeks.
Pinewood Drive resident David Lehoux said the parking at the Gym is not sufficient and that it’s not a proper facility for the many elderly voters in the community, noting that the Nasson Gym, which is currently the polling place for Springvale, is much easier to access for handicapped voters.
Springvale resident Dianne Connolly agreed with Lehoux, saying there are always parking problems at Memorial Gym whenever there is a special event happening.
State Rep. Ann Fredericks said she was initially in favor of consolidation as a way to save money and have improved oversight, but changed her mind after speaking to many people who turned out to vote this week. She is concerned that consolidation will lead to traffic and wait lines that will discourage people from voting. “No one I talked to was in favor” of the plan, she concluded.
State Rep. Lucas Lanigan said consolidation would lead to voter suppression, and that long lines and a longer distance to travel would impact lower income and minority community members disproportionately. “The last thing we want to do is encourage people not to vote,” he said. He also expressed concern about traffic hazards to students walking home from Sanford Middle School.
State Senator Matt Harrington agreed that it would suppress voting by adding to the length of the lines. He suggested consolidating to two locations might be less of a problem.
Cote responded to comments about potential transportation problems by saying that York County Community Action was willing to create a stop for the Sanford Transit bus at Willard School next door to the Gym, and that residents unable to use Transit could call in advance and request a ride to and from the polls. “Having one location instead of three will make that coordination easier,” she said, adding that the Nasson Gym is the only one of the three locations currently on the bus route. She also said parking at another current location, the former St. Ignatius Gym, is “atrocious” and unsafe.
When the Council took up the matter under Old Business, Councilor Bob Stackpole motioned to approve the consolidation and Deputy Mayor Maura Herlihy seconded it. But as soon as discussion began, Tranchemontagne moved to table the discussion to study the issue further. “I don’t want anybody losing votes…I don’t want people walking away,” he said. Martell seconded the motion. Under Council rules, there can be no further discussion once a motion to table is made and seconded. The Council then voted 4-3 to table the matter, with Mayor Becky Brink and Councilor Nate Hitchcock joining Tranchemontagne and Martell in favor of tabling.
At the end of the meeting, during Councilor Comments, Stackpole abruptly left the meeting, saying that “If I stay I’m going to say something…so I’m leaving now.”
Herlihy expressed frustration with the way discussion on consolidation was abruptly halted. “Please think long and hard before you table without any discussion at all,” she said. She said the Council shortchanged the topic and now would have to figure out whether to hold a workshop, send it back to Subcommittee or “just come back and have the same exact discussion we could have had tonight.”