WESTBROOK — Voters in Wards 2 and 3 will have a new place to cast their ballots for next month’s school validation vote.
After getting a last-minute notification that the Maine National Guard Armory, a longtime polling location, won’t be available on Tuesday, June 11, the city council approved shifting voters to the Westbrook Community Center.
The Armory, at 120 Stroudwater St., has been used for city and state elections for more than a dozen years, but City Clerk Angela Holmes was told earlier this month that the building will no longer be available for elections until at least 2020.
“The Maine National Guard is extremely grateful for all our armory rental clients and municipalities like Westbrook are no exception. Partnering with our communities is a huge part of what we do. There are a few dates and events for the Westbrook armory that the Armory Rental Program will need to cancel. This is due to upcoming summer military training and renovations we hope to see begin next fiscal year,” Capt. Carl J. Lamb, State Public Affairs Officer for the Maine National Guard, wrote in an email to the American Journal.
Lamb said the November elections will likely need to also be in a different space “due to our preparation for renovating.”
The renovation is set to begin after the unit deploys later this year and the work is expected to last until 2020, and possibly 2021.
Wards 1 and 4 will continue using the community center and Ward 5 will continue to vote at Prides Corner Congregational Church on Pride Street.
Last time voting was displaced from the Armory, the polls were shifted across the street to the high school gymnasium
City Administrator Jerre Bryant said that would be a logical solution, but holding an election in the gym proved to be problematic in part because school was in session, making parking, access and security difficult.
“Most communities look to schools for polling places. That is fine if you want to close school for the day. The proximity is so enticing, but we tried it and it didn’t work,” Bryant said.
The Community Center won’t come without problems either.
“Crowd control, parking and traffic are the biggest concerns, so we need to have a solid plan in place to address this,” Holmes said.
City officials have developed a parking plan, and activities at the community center will be canceled June 11, except for the preschool program and Woodfords Family Services programming. Westbrook Little League has also not scheduled any games that day and the parking lot at that site will be used for overflow.
To help voters access the new polling location, RTP has offered Westbrook residents with disabilities or mobility issues free transportation to the polls, something Westbrook Housing will also begin doing starting with the November election.
Councilor Larry McWilliams said with four of the city’s five wards set to vote at the community center – at least for the June election – it may make sense to have that facility take on Ward 5 voters as well.
“If it works out with 1-4, I would make it a consideration that we have just one polling location, period, for the city. It would make it a lot easier and a lot of sense because people would know where to go – at the community center,” he said.
Holmes said that idea has merit, but she is not ready to make such a proposal at this time.
The ability to properly manage the election for her and Deputy City Clerk Ashley Rand would be easier with fewer polling locations. Right now she and Rand have to bounce between four polls: the Armory, community center, Prides Corner Church and City Hall, where absentee ballots are cast and counted.
“The ability to manage an election improves as the number of polling locations we are required to buzz between throughout the course of the day decreases,” Holmes said. “It would make an incredible difference from an election management standpoint.”
Councilor Mike Foley said one polling location would eliminate confusion for voters. Other similar sized communities, such as Gorham, Scarborough and Windham, he said, have centralized polling locations.
Monday’s action approved shifting Wards 2 and 3 to the community center for the June election only. Making a change for the November election and future elections will need additional approval from the council.
Holmes said after the June election, a debriefing session will be held to see what worked well, what didn’t and how voting should be held in the future. A proposal regarding how to handle the November elections, and future elections, will come before the council shortly after the June election. A public hearing would also have to be held.
“To make this a permanent change, it would need additional action by the council,” Holmes said.
Councilor Brendan Reilly said if the community center is used as the polling location for Wards 1, 2, 3 and 4 in November he would like to see better signage for voters, especially for larger elections, such as the 2020 presidential election.
“There are so many ways into the community center and there is always confusion about where people are supposed to line up. There aren’t many signs out there directing where (voting is taking place), so it would be good to have some sort of plan for that,” he said.
Lamb said once the renovations are done, the Armory may once again be able to accommodate elections.
“It is our intent that once the appropriate work is completed, local elections and other activities will be able to be held once again at the Westbrook Armory,” he said.
Aside from elections, the Armory has also held craft fairs, gun shows, wrestling and other community events.
Michael Kelley can be reached at 780-9106 or [email protected] or on Twitter @mkelleynews.
The Westbrook Armory will not be available for polling at least through 2020 because the site is being renovated.
Residents of Wards 2 and 3 will not be voting at their normal polling location in the National Guard Armory during the June school validation vote due to unavailability.