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Council Votes to Move Toward Polling Place Consolidation

sanford high school

Sanford High School

Photo: Zendelle Bouchard

By Zendelle Bouchard

At its regular meeting on July 2, the Sanford City Council voted 6-1 to move toward consolidating the City’s three polling places to one location beginning with the Presidential Election in November. If they ultimately approve the consolidation, the single polling place for Sanford and Springvale will be at Sanford High School/SRTC. The process for approving the change will include a public hearing. The Council must vote on the issue by Aug. 6 for the change to take effect in time for the Nov. 5 election.

Over the past several months City officials have worked closely with School Department officials on the proposal. Superintendent of Schools Matt Nelson said SHS/SRTC would be closed on Election Day, but that all other schools would remain open.

York County Community Action Corp. Transportation Director Tom Reinauer said his agency could add a stop at SHS for the day and is also planning to have additional drivers available for its on-demand service, which requires people to reserve a ride by noon the day before.

Emily Sheffield, Executive Director of Nasson Community Center, which is currently the Ward 1 polling place, emailed her support for the change. She said the Early Learning Center located at Nasson would have to close for the day due to safety concerns, if the Presidential Election were held there.

Ed Cormier, a Sanford resident who has served as the Ward 1 poll warden for several years, described the many hours of work that goes into setting up and holding an election. He said the poll workers, most of whom are elderly, work twelve hours straight. “By consolidating to one location, we can give them shifts instead of making them work the whole day,” he said.

Councilor Jonathan Martell called the consolidation plan an attempt at “voter suppression before a critical election.” He said voters wouldn’t know about the change and would go to the wrong location. City Clerk Sue Cote responded that she would be mailing a letter to every registered voter in the city, as well as publicizing the change on social media, in the Sanford Springvale News and on the city’s website.

The Council voted 6-1 to continue the process leading to consolidation, with Martell the lone vote in opposition.

Cote first raised the issue of consolidation last fall, as a way to make it easier to find enough poll workers 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. At that time, she proposed Veterans Memorial Gym as the single polling place for the city. But at a public hearing, several people spoke against consolidation in general and the Gym location in particular, noting difficulties with parking and access. The discussion then pivoted to using SHS, which has plenty of parking and is fully handicapped accessible.

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