The Sanford City Council is considering eliminating two polling locations in future elections, a move Republicans say will disproportionately inconvenience GOP voters.
“Since I became the town clerk in 2011, I have had a dream to narrow down the voting places in Sanford and Springdale,” said Sue Cote, the Sanford city clerk, speaking from behind a mask at the City Council meeting.
The city council is now considering reducing the number of polling locations in the town from three to one.
Sanford is Maine’s eighth largest municipality by population.
At the start of her time as city clerk, the town had seven polling locations, which she was excited to reduce to the current three.
“We were here till seven o’clock the following morning before we were able to go home waiting for the returns from the seven polling places. So I was very excited to not have to do that again,” said Cote
Cote cited difficulty in staffing the town’s three polling locations as a reason for the proposed change.
The agenda for the city council meeting, held just one day after Tuesday’s election, reads “In addition to consolidating wards, the proposal will consolidate the wards existing three polling places to one.”
Although there were multiple proposals to be reviewed, Mayor Becky A. Brink acknowledged that the consolidation of polling locations was the main issue to be discussed.
Before discussing the important issue, the mayor decided to give the city councilors some public and unsolicited advice on how to cope with the stress of the coming holidays, telling them “I decided to become your therapist.”
The city clerk believes that the the change will be more convenient for the majority of voters, particularly for the disabled and elderly citizens of Sanford.
The vast majority of members of the public who spoke at the meeting, however, disagreed.
One man believed that the new polling location was in a state of disrepair, and would be far more difficult for disabled voters to access.
One Sanford resident, Rep. Ann Fredericks (R-Sanford), spoke as a member of the public to the city council.
Rep. Fredricks was initially in favor of the proposal, but after speaking to voters in the polling lines, she changed her position.
She asked people about their concerns, and heard that many feared the consolidation would make voting much more difficult, fearing that the congestion at the polling place would require them to take time off of work in order to vote, or risk not getting to the polls on time.
“I didn’t hear anybody speak to me about a yes vote. And I did ask,” Fredericks said
Sen. Matt Harrington (R-York), a resident of Sanford said that this change would negatively impact voter turnout on Election Day, a move that would disproportionately impact Republicans, as GOP voters are more likely to vote on Election Day.
“I’ve stood at all three of these polling locations and there’s been lines out the door at all three,” Harrington said.
This proposal would have no effect on voters mailing in absentee, or early voting ballots, who made up 22 percent of the votes in Tuesday’s election, according to one speaker who addressed the council.
The proposal would effectively encourage absentee and mail-in voting, while discouraging Mainers who prefer to go to the polls in person.
According to political data firm TargetSmart, Democrats voted by mail at a far greater rate than Republicans, as of the 2022 General Elections, in which 50.8 percent of mail-in ballots were cast by Democrats, when compared with only 38.4 percent cast by Republicans.
Given Sanford’s close elections, often decided by just a few hundred votes, this change would have the potential to alter the future outcomes of elections in the city in favor of Democrats.
Councilors Jonathan L. Martell and Pete Tranchmontagne responded to The Maine Wire’s request for comment, while the other councilors, as well as the mayor, declined.
“I see this as disenfranchising Republicans and some Independents the most as a higher percentage of in person voters tend to be in those categories,” Martell said. “Especially for those that prefer to vote in person due to concerns with mail in voting. With a growing city, I see this as a step backwards.”
Tranchmontagne, although not completely decided on the issue, was very wary of the consolidation.
“I can just see a presidential election with all three polling stations slammed into one,” he said. “That could be a nightmare.”
Shortly before the end of the meeting, Democrat city councilor Robert Stackpole, who had supported the consolidation of polling locations left early.
“If I stay I’m going to say something that will make a lot of enemies, so I’m leaving now,” Stackpole said.
The meeting’s discussion of the issue ended with Tranchmontaigne’s motion to table the proposal for further discussion.
As of now, the issue remains undecided.