A voter inserts a ballot into a ballot box at Tiger Gym in Biddeford on Nov. 3, 2020. Biddeford, along with several other York County communities, applied for and received grant funding to help pay election expenses during this pandemic year from the Chicago-based nonprofit Center for Tech and Civic Life. Tammy Wells Photo

A nonprofit agency has distributed grants to 2,500 communities across the country, including several locally, to help pay for COVID-19 election related expenses like additional voting booths, outside ballot boxes, personal protective equipment, laptops, wages, cleaning, and more.

In the municipalities covered by the Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier and Kennebunk Post, grants, ranging from $5,000 to more than $260,000, were distributed to Biddeford, Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, Old Orchard Beach and Saco.

The grants come from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a Chicago-based nonprofit founded in 2012 to help foster civil engagement, according to its website. CTCL says it has been supported financially by Google, Facebook, The Center for Civil Design, The Rockefeller Brothers Fund and several others.

The CTCL launched its COVID-19 Response Grant Program earlier this year to help ensure communities had resources they needed to safely serve voters for the fall election cycle, noting on its website that “the COVID-19 pandemic (brought) unprecedented challenges that most election budgets aren’t equipped to handle.”

Biddeford City Clerk Carmen Morris said the city was awarded $261,721.

“The money was used for the purchase of an outside ballot drop box, two new laptops for use at the poll on Election Day for voter registration, as well as for the absentee voting and in-person voting that took place prior to Election Day, overtime pay to city staff and wages for additional Election Day ward workers; other office supplies and items necessary due to running an election during a pandemic and having to manage thousands of absentee ballots,” said Morris.

Biddeford voters returned 8,072 absentee ballots to the polls by 8 p.m. on election night, Nov. 3, said Morris, just about half of the city’s 16,064 registered voters. Biddeford’s total voter turnout was 69.73 percent.

In Kennebunk, the Select Board recently accepted a $55,000 grant from CTCL. Town Clerk Merton Brown had applied for the funding, which was used to reimburse the town for election payroll expenses, photocopiers, laptop computers and printers, voting booths, voter traffic flow and control equipment and signposts, chairs, tables and filing cabinets.

The Select Board voted unanimously to accept the grant.

“These grants are pretty competitive,” said Select Board member Shiloh Schulte at the vote. “This is a testament to a strong proposal.”

Saco election officials used $7,440 in grant funding for personal protective equipment used during absentee voting,  absentee voting equipment and supplies, temporary staffing, electrical work for voting machines at the new temporary polling location at Thornton Academy and for rugs to cover the voting machine cords, said City Clerk Michele Hughes.

Kennebunkport Town Clerk Tracey O’Roak said $5,000 in CTCL grant funding was used to rent an extra ballot machine, personal protective equipment, election worker payroll, and labels for absentee ballot envelopes.

Old Orchard Beach used the $5,000 they received from CTCL to hire a cleaning company, said Town Clerk Kim McLaughlin. The company cleaned voting booths after every voter, and at every hour, cleaned the tables and sneeze guards (which were provided by the state) at the tables used by ballot clerks. McLaughlin said all touchable surfaces and the restrooms were cleaned throughout the day.

“Everyone was very pleased with their attentiveness to COVID protocol,” said McLaughlin. “The cost was more than the awarded amount, $5,820, so we used the entire grant for that purpose.”

Maine Secretary of State’s Office spokeswoman Kristen Muszynski said the office heard from clerks across the state that they were receiving finding from CTCL.

Arundel received grant funding from other sources — funding for an outside ballot box was provided by the state, which also provided personal protective equipment, acrylic barriers, hand sanitizers and face shields, said Town Clerk Emily Nedeau.

In all, 19 of York County’s 29 municipalities received funding from CTCL. Others communities that received grants include Alfred, Berwick, Buxton, Cornish, Dayton, Eliot, Hollis, Lebanon, Limington, Lyman, Newfield, North Berwick, Sanford, and Shapleigh.

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