Voters wait to cast their ballots at Brunswick Junior High School in the July primary election. Darcie Moore / The Times Record

BRUNSWICK — Brunswick officials are considering opening Coffin School as a second polling location for the November election in an effort to reduce wait times and ensure enough space for social distancing. 

The council is expected to vote on the change Monday, but the move would still need to be approved by the secretary of state’s office. 

The two polling locations, Coffin and the neighboring Brunswick Junior High School, Brunswick’s traditional polling spot, would be divided by last name, with “extensive signage” to direct voters to the appropriate building, Smith said in a memo to the council. The schools share a common entrance and parking lot. 

A current executive order by Gov. Janet Mills mandates that up to 50 people, including workers and observers, may be in a polling site at any given time. 

According to the order, consolidating polling locations requires a public hearing at least 30 days before the election, and an application to change a polling location can be made up to 20 days prior. 

However, according to Kristen Schulze Muszynski, director of communications for the secretary of state’s office, an expansion of an existing polling place to an adjacent building is not directly addressed in the law or included in the executive order. The next steps of the process are under discussion, she said, and the office’s elections deputy secretary is working with the town on how to process the change. 

Fran Smith, town clerk, said Friday that even if the second location is approved, only about 60 people would be able to vote at a given time. 

Smith said this year’s elections have been unlike any she has encountered in her 27 years on the job. 

Any other year, she supports people voting however they are comfortable, whether in person or absentee, but this year she is encouraging people to vote absentee if they can. 

An absentee vote will not only help reduce the risk of coronavirus exposure, but also lower the wait times for people in line. 

Coffin School, Brunswick’s pre-kindergarten through first-grade school for over 50 years, closed this year with the opening of the new Kate Furbish Elementary School. The future of the building remains unclear

The second polling location is one of several attempts by Brunswick officials to make voting as safe and accessible as possible in the midst of a pandemic and a contentious presidential election. 

Earlier this summer, the council voted to pay for return postage for people wishing to vote by mail— an estimated cost of $6,500 with 65 cents per ballot and an anticipated 10,000 absentee votes. Brunswick also ordered a secure ballot box to place outside the town hall where voters can safely cast their ballots before or on Nov. 3. 

So far, Smith has received 5,476 absentee ballot requests and is hoping for more than 10,000. She is anticipating roughly 13,000 total ballots. 

Statewide, as of Sept. 15, the most recent data available, 196,129 voters had requested absentee ballots. About 1.63 million Mainers are registered to vote. 

Ballots will be available next month. 

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