If the Portland city clerk’s proposal for poll consolidation moves forward, residents who usually vote at the Woodfords Club would cast their ballots July 14 at the First Baptist Church on Canco Road. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

PORTLAND — Polling sites for the July 14 school validation vote, state primary and local and state referendums likely will be different this year.

In an effort to make in-person voting easier for staff during the coronavirus pandemic, City Clerk Kathy Jones is proposing consolidating the city’s 11 polling locations into three sites: The Cross Insurance Arena at Civic Center, First Baptist Church on Canco Road and Peaks Island Community Center.

“The number (of polling locations) is very concerning to me during a pandemic,” Jones said. “It is too many sites to maintain and be able to comply with certain social distancing and safety guidelines.”

Under the proposal, there would be four lines to enter the polling locations and voters would maintain social distancing much like they are in grocery stores. Election workers would check voters in and distribute ballots from behind a Plexiglas barrier and voters would be given their own pen to use. Voting booths would be wiped down after each use.

Many of the existing sites would not properly allow for social distancing and one, the Portland Expo, will not be available in July because it is being used to quarantine homeless people exposed to the coronavirus. Two others, St. Pius Church and the Italian Heritage Center, would be available, but only if the city pays for thorough cleaning after use, an expense that Jones said is not in the budget.

Jones said one-third of the election wardens have indicated they would be unwilling to work because they are at high risk of contracting the virus. She said it will be difficult to find the 242 election workers needed to fully staff 11 polling locations. Approximately 81 workers would be needed to staff three locations and would cost $21,200 less than the cost of the March 3 presidential primary and special referendum election.

Those who typically vote at East End Elementary School, Merrill Auditorium, Reiche Elementary School, Portland Exposition Center and Italian Heritage Center would, under the proposal, vote at the Cross Insurance Area, and those who vote at First Baptist Church, St. Pius Church, Woodfords Club, Deering High School and Grace Baptist Church would vote at First Baptist Church.

Voters on Peaks Island would still vote at the island’s community center.

The council is expected to vote on the consolidation proposal after a June 15 public hearing, but several councilors said Monday they feel more sites are needed.

“These are good sites. Personally I wish we had one or two more, but I am not sure that’s possible,” Councilor Nick Mavodones said.

“I am concerned there are people who would normally vote but won’t come out for this election. That may be because of COVID-19, but I’d hate for it to be because they have to drive a considerable distance over town,” he said.

Councilor Jill Duson said she feels the city needs six sites: two on the peninsula and two off, Peaks Island and central voting at City Hall. Councilor Pious Ali said he fears consolidating the polling locations will increase the number of voters going to one polling location.

“Are we not crowding more people in one space?” he asked.

In-person voting may be down due to coronavirus concerns and Jones expects a large number of absentee voting. As of Monday, her office has received 5,053 absentee ballot requests. For the June 2018 state primary/school validation vote, the city received 1,308 absentee requests by June 1.

The Merrill Rehearsal Hall will be open June 16 for in-person absentee voting and voter registration. Absentee ballots, Jones said, can be requested and returned through Election Day. Ballots can be requested by calling the clerk’s office at 874-8610 or through the Secretary of State’s website.

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