In a rare move, Secretary of State Shenna Bellows this week denied the Brunswick Town Council’s plan to relocate the town’s polling location from the junior high school to the recreation center.

The council in September voted 6-3 to move the polls. Supporters of the recreation center on Neptune Drive in Brunswick Landing argued the site was bigger, had more parking, was easier for older adults to access and wouldn’t disrupt the school day. Detractors of the move said the school was centrally located near downtown and moving the polls to the recreation center, a 5-mile drive, would discourage people from voting. Bellows agreed with the latter argument.

“Brunswick’s current polling location is centrally located and close to a majority of the town’s residents,” Bellows wrote in her rejection letter Tuesday. “Additionally, its co-location with the high school and proximity to Bowdoin College increases the ease of voting for first-time voters and younger voters, a population that is traditionally underrepresented in voter turnout.

“Because the move would likely result in some traditionally marginalized voters, particularly people who are low income or unhoused, having more difficulty voting or not being able to vote on Election Day, I must reject your request to move the polling place.”

It was the first time in recent memory a proposed polling location move was rejected, according to Emily Cook, Bellows’ director of communications.

Some councilors were incensed.


“I’m not happy,” Councilor Kathy Wilson, who sponsored the measure to move the polls, said during Tuesday’s council meeting. “I’m ready to drive to Augusta and make a case.”

The next election, when voters will decide whether to adopt the proposed school budget, is set for June 13. That election will be held at the junior high school in light of Bellows’ decision. Citing safety concerns, the School Board voted last year to switch to remote learning for elections so the junior high school will be empty of students. Still, Wilson said there are safety issues with opening the school to the public for elections.

“Even if the kids are not there, we cannot stop people from wandering around and putting something somewhere that is hidden,” she said. “The school is so open to some crazy nut who wants to do something bad. … I don’t think the schools should be that open to the public.”

Councilor David Watson agreed.

“I’m disappointed, upset,” he said. “Parking (at the junior high school) is atrocious. Traffic in the parking lot is very dangerous.”

Councilor Abby King, who voted for the move last year, was concerned Bellows overrode a town decision.


“It feels like a dangerous precedent,” King said.

Council Chairperson James Mason, who voted against the move last year, reminded councilors of the concern that switching voting locations could reduce turnout.

“It was a divided vote,” he said. “The concerns the secretary of state expressed were expressed at that meeting.”

Councilors discussed installing a better ramp at the junior high school to make it easier to access for older adults and possibly moving the election to the following Saturday or following week when students are out of school, so the election won’t disrupt classes.

Town Clerk Fran Smith, who supports the polling location move to the recreation center, said town staff will send out postcards to all homes to clarify the June election will be held at the junior high school.

“We will continue to move forward and run the best election we can,” she said.

Cook said the secretary of state receives a handful of polling relocation requests ever year.

The requests are “often from jurisdictions that use a smaller location (like a town office) for voting in lower turnout elections (like primaries or local elections) and larger ones for general elections,” Cook said in an email. “Additionally, we usually see proposals to move locations because the traditionally used one isn’t available — for example, because a building was sold, it is being used for another long-term purpose, or in one instance, mold was discovered indoors.”

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