SECRETARY OF STATE Matthew Dunlap, who oversees all elections in Maine, visits Brunswick High School on Monday.

SECRETARY OF STATE Matthew Dunlap, who oversees all elections in Maine, visits Brunswick High School on Monday.

BRUNSWICK

On the eve of Election Day, Brunswick High School’s student government welcomed Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap to the school library to have a conversation about Maine’s voting process.

The school won the honor through a statewide competition called the 2016 Voter Reg Rumble, which invited colleges and high schools statewide to host their own registration drive. Dunlap, who oversees all elections in the state, also visited Bates College in Lewiston.

MATT DUNLAP stands with students involved with the Brunswick High School student government program on Monday. BHS won the 2016 Voter Reg Rumble competition against other Maine high schools, which brought Dunlap to the school.

MATT DUNLAP stands with students involved with the Brunswick High School student government program on Monday. BHS won the 2016 Voter Reg Rumble competition against other Maine high schools, which brought Dunlap to the school.

In his conversation with nearly 20 BHS students, Dunlap touched on the challenges of overseeing an election, the importance of voting and why more young people should be involved in the voting process.

“We had a sort of informal competition, and the grand prize is they get me,” said Dunlap. “It’s really great to see so much energy go in this with young people. I think the default setting on how people perceive the electorate is that young people don’t care and don’t participate.

“But this year’s vote is like the Super Bowl. People recognize how important the presidency is, especially when it’s an open seat,” Dunlap continued. “That makes it even more important that more people participate in helping voters get acclimated, get registered, get qualified and then be ready on Election Day.”

Though most students at BHS are too young to vote, their influence on their family is already apparent.

“This year my older sister gets to vote, and I helped her figure out what needs to be done (to register),” said Corbin Bouchard, who is part of BHS student government. “This process helped all of us here at the school become more informed.”

Student government adviser Pam Wagner said she got her students involved in the Voter Reg Rumble because she was “lucky enough to get email about the program.” She explained the ballot and the registration process to them, and then they polled students during three different lunch periods. In the mock voting results, Hillary Clinton won the presidential election and all six referendum questions passed.

“If nothing else, I was really excited that the kids were talking about (voting) and getting involved,” said Wagner.

Dunlap said it’s important to understand all facets of the voting process, including absentee balloting and the work that he and state officials put into preparing the polls and counting the votes after the election is over.

“Most people think that everything is done by 8 p.m. on election night, but we’re just getting started,” said Dunlap, who said for example it usually takes three days to get all of the referendum question votes counted. Then he has 20 days to certify the votes.

“It’s quite the process,” said Dunlap.

Dunlap said that this year has a chance to be a record year for absentee ballots, with 35-37 percent of votes coming in before Election Day.

“If that number keeps growing (in the future) we may have to look into doing something different,” said Dunlap. “Like maybe true early voting, where people come into the polling place two weeks before the election and cast their vote. The absentee ballot process is an enormous amount of work.”

Dunlap said that when Portland began processing their absentee ballots on Friday, they had more than 15,000 envelopes, and that Bangor ran out of envelopes.

Though Dunlap keeps his own political views out of his work, he said he will be voting in Old Town on Election Day, and then will start a tour of all of the big polling sites, including Bangor, Augusta, Lewiston and Portland.

“This will be one of the rare times I’ll have someone driving me because I’ll have a phone in each hand,” said Dunlap. “I’ll probably do about 30 media interviews.”

Dunlap said his staff will be on hand from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Election Day to troubleshoot any issues that come up.

“And there’s always something that comes up,” said Dunlap. “One year the power went out in a certain town. Fortunately, the polling place was next door to the fire department, so they went in and got flashlights and kept voting. Another year someone pulled a fire alarm in a polling place, so we had a court case that afternoon to keep the polling place open for an extra hour. Just when you think something could never happen, it happens.”

It wasn’t clear whether Dunlap was referring to an incident during primary voting at Brunswick Junior High School in June 2014, when a student pulled a fire alarm, briefly disrupting the election. The student was later summonsed by police.

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