For the July 14 election, which includes key primaries for both parties, voters will find polling places transformed.

Many people will wind up at new locations where there’s more space for social distancing, and even traditional spots are likely to be reconfigured substantially to try to keep poll workers and the public safe from COVID-19.

Speaking to a Maine Conservation Voters forum, Lewiston City Clerk Kathy Montejo said people working at the polls around the state will be wearing masks and face shields, sitting behind clear plastic barriers and trying to minimize any direct contact with voters.

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said the state bought half a million pens for 8 cents apiece so that each voter can use an untouched one to mark ballots. They can keep the pen.

And those “I Voted” stickers? They’re probably going to be scarce or nonexistent as well.

Plus, given the necessity of keeping everyone 6 feet apart to avoid spreading the coronavirus, officials warn that lines may appear pretty long even if they’re actually moving at a good clip.

“Don’t be discouraged” if the lines look bad, Montejo said. She said officials hope there won’t be too much delay.

Even so, Montego and Dunlap said, voting by absentee ballot may be a better option for many.

In addition to local issues such as school budgets, voters next month will decide the fate of two statewide bond issues.

Democrats will also choose a U.S. Senate candidate from among three contenders, Sara Gideon of Freeport, Bre Kidman of Saco and Betsy Sweet of Hallowell.

Republicans in the 2nd Congressional District will pick from among a trio of primary contenders: Dale Crafts of Lisbon, Adrienne Bennett of Bangor and Eric Brakey of Auburn.

Dunlap said the state pushed back the primary from June 9 to July 14 as a prudent measure to provide more time to prepare in the midst of a pandemic. Some deadlines were changed as well.

While anyone can vote in Maine simply by showing up at the polls, that doesn’t apply to everybody who might want to vote in the party primaries.

To change parties, for instance, voters need to inform their town clerk at least 15 days before the election.

While there’s still plenty of time, people who are uncertain about their registration can check with the clerk, officials said.

They can also request absentee ballots. For those who have already asked for one, the actual ballots will be mailed out “fairly soon,” Dunlap said.

Montejo and Dunlap said it’s best to ask sooner rather than later for absentee ballots because the post office isn’t as fast as it was in days past because it has consolidated mail sorting as part of its response to COVID-19.

Requests can be made directly with the clerk or online.

They said ballots should be returned no later than July 8 to make sure they reach the clerk’s office by Election Day. Only ballots that are in hand by then will be counted.

But ballots can also be brought to the clerk’s office directly, they said, and, in some places, possibly placed in drop boxes that Dunlap’s office is trying to get in place in time. Most municipalities won’t have them, though, even in the best-case scenario.

The pair said people who need to register should do it before Election Day. Call the clerk’s office, they said, or stop in if that’s possible.

Montejo urged people who are voting in person to read up on the bond questions and think about who they should cast ballots for before they get to their polling place.

“A fast turnaround” time, she said, will help everyone.

Making sure there are enough people to keep the polls functioning is one of many other hurdles that officials face.

Those interested in working at the polls, which include paid positions in some municipalities, should check with municipal clerks soon. Montejo said working the polls is a great way to help the community.


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