A divided Town Council voted Tuesday evening to move Brunswick’s only polling location from the junior high school to the recreation center on Neptune Drive, effective 2023.

The 6-3 vote, which will not affect the upcoming November 8 election, overrode concerns from some council members, residents and voting rights advocates that moving the polling site away from the center of Brunswick would make it more difficult for voters to cast their ballots.

“With all that’s going on in this chapter of American history, I could not fathom voting for this item,” District 2 Councilor Stephen Walker said before voting against the move. “We are making voting less convenient in this town.”

Kate Foye and Council Chair James Mason joined Walker in opposing the motion.

The majority argued moving from the junior high school would prevent disruptions to the Brunswick School Department’s academic calendar. Citing student safety concerns, the School Board determined in March that schools must operate remotely on election days as long as the junior high remains a polling site.

Supporters of the move also argued it would benefit marginalized groups, including low-income voters living in East Brunswick, wheelchair-bound residents who struggle to access the current polling site and those who rely on the Brunswick Link for transportation.


“This is an opportunity to increase accessibility to voting for more people in our Town,” said District 5 Councilor Christopher Watkinson. “It’s a no-brainer to me. It really is.”

Brunswick consolidated its half-dozen polling locations to a single site in 2010, according to Town Clerk Fran Smith. She said that model’s simplicity has helped Brunswick increase its voter turnout significantly over the past decade, a trend she warned could reverse if a second polling site was added.

Though councilors on both sides of the debate expressed interest in adding a second voting location, Tuesday’s meeting focused primarily on whether to move the consolidated site, echoing a similar 2018 fight.

Before the Council voted on the measure, which was sponsored by Councilors Watkinson, Sande Updegraph and Kathy Wilson, it listened to concerns from members of the public.

Meagan Sway, policy director at the Maine branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, and State Sen. Mattie Daughtry both opposed the motion, warning that moving the polls away from the town’s population center would chill future election turnout.

Just over 8,000 Brunswick residents live within a mile of the junior high school, compared to about 1,750 within one mile of the recreation center, according to data provided by the town clerk’s office. About 90% of residents live within four miles of both locations.


District 3 Councilor Abby King argued that while the status quo might work for many, it fails some of Brunswick’s most vulnerable residents.

“Is (the rec center) less convenient for the people that live in the neighborhood around the junior high?” she asked. “Perhaps. But I’m worried about all those people in Brunswick, and I know they’re out there, who cannot walk and cannot drive.”

She argued the Brunswick Link stop at Neptune Drive and Orion Street will make the new polling center more accessible to residents who don’t have cars and can’t walk to the current site.

Watkinson pointed out that residents who prefer to walk to the polls can still easily cast absentee ballots in person at the Town Hall for a full month prior to election day.

Brunswick is already one of Maine’s leaders in absentee voting, according to Smith.

Yet Kate Foye argued the motion’s proponents underestimated the chilling effect of moving the polls from Brunswick’s center to the recreation center 4.5 miles away.

“There’s a long, long list of reasons why people don’t vote, she said. “The idea that this isn’t going to make it harder and more inconvenient and deter people from working is wrong. I think it’s obtuse.”

While Dan Ankeles applauded his fellow councilors for navigating a complex issue, Mason said he was disappointed in the group and questioned their motives.

“I don’t believe we should be suppressing votes for the sake of better parking,” he said. “And I think that’s what we’re doing.”

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