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

BRUNSWICK — Brunswick received a grant worth more than $200,000 to help ease the financial toll of hosting a presidential election during a global pandemic.

While Town Clerk Fran Smith says there’s no way the town will be able to use that much money, she’s willing to put a dent in it. 

The $211,650 Center for Tech and Civic Life COVID-19 Response grant will cover any election-related expenses for the July primary and November election, but the funds “must be used exclusively for the public purpose of planning and operationalizing safe and secure election administration in Brunswick Town in 2020,” according to the award letter. 

According to Smith, examples of reimbursable expenses include temporary staffing, supplies and equipment, such as personal protective equipment and postage and labels expended for absentee ballots. 

The grant also can be used to fund new equipment like laptops to help make the process easier and more modern, Smith said.

“A lot of our equipment is getting old, so it this our opportunity to replace it that we wouldn’t normally have,” Smith said. “This is our opportunity to really bring ourselves into the future, so we’re excited about it.”

The money cannot be used to reduce the town clerk’s budget, and town officials must produce a report documenting how the grant funds were used by the end of January.

Before the July and November elections, the Brunswick Town Council voted to pay return postage for absentee ballots, a roughly $6,500 expense for the presidential election alone, and one that was not in the budget. 

This expense will be covered by the grant, as will the remaining $500 for the safe ballot drop box not covered by the state. 

Town officials also voted this year to open Coffin School as a second polling location in order to minimize wait times and ensure proper social distancing for voters. 

The two locations, Coffin and the neighboring Brunswick Junior High School, Brunswick’s traditional polling spot, will be divided by last name, with “extensive signage” to direct voters to the appropriate building, Smith said in a previous memo to the town council. The two schools share a common entrance and parking lot. Money from the grant will also help pay for the “extensive signage” needed and any additional staff needed to man the station. 

Even with all of these expenses, it is likely that the town will “have to give a great amount back,” she said. 

As of Wednesday evening, Smith said 10,278 absentee ballots have been issued and 8,292 have been returned, already more than the approximately 7,000 absentee ballots cast in the 2016 election. 

Right now roughly 175 ballots are being cast per day and next week she anticipates some days will break 300. There are roughly 20,000 registered voters in Brunswick, but Smith said there are more likely about 16,500— the numbers are somewhat skewed because the town does not get notified if someone moves and registers to vote elsewhere. 

“It’s been very very busy,” she said. 

This is encouraging, she added, as the more absentee ballots there are, the fewer people there will be at the polls. Even with the addition of Coffin, only about 60 people will be able to vote at a time, so town staff are bracing for long wait times on election day. 

In 2016, about 12,800 Brunswick voters cast their ballots, representing a more than 50% voter turnout, the highest she has ever seen. She expects this year to see even more.

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