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Orono discusses pushing annual election date back for UMaine students

Town elections currently take place when University of Maine students are away for spring break, preventing students from voting in local elections in-person.

ORONO, Maine — The town of Orono held a committee meeting Monday, Aug. 28, to discuss whether the annual municipal election date should be changed from the second Tuesday of March to a new date in November.

Currently, elections take place when University of Maine students are away for spring break, preventing many of them from voting in local elections in-person. 

Co-coordinator for UMaine's You Vote club Rob Glover said several students were traveling home to take a needed break from their studies or to visit their families.

Glover said even though some students submitted absentee ballots, voter turnout was still low. Also, the absentee ballot process can be a hassle, Glover said, but one that can be minimized. 

"The process of requesting an absentee ballot, ensuring that they get the absentee ballot in time, they return it in time--it's just a more complicated process," Gover said. "I think the emphasis for this change would be to ensure that we have the students here on campus, and if they want to vote in person, they have that opportunity."

Orono Town Manager Sophia Wilson said the absentee ballot process in place is efficient, and voting is made accessible for everyone, regardless of which way they choose to submit their ballots. 

"We have that down to a science here," Wilson said. "You can call and get an absentee ballot. You can request one through the mail. You can go online and request one."

There is a dropbox for absentee ballots right outside of town council's doors. During elections, UMaine poll workers collect all the absentee ballots submitted at the university and make sure the votes are submitted, Glover said. 

Wilson said during special elections in late August, 548 ballots were cast, and more than 200 of those votes were submitted by absentee ballots.

According to Wilson, the town is not discussing a possible change because there is an issue with the absentee ballot process. Instead, the town's consideration is rooted in the desire to increase inclusion. 

"It's more of the concern that holding an election when the university is not in session might be sending the message that university students aren't encouraged to vote," Wilson said.

Most of the council members are in favor of the change, but a few members have their concerns. 

Town Council Chair Geoff Wingard said he is not against changing the election date to include university students, but he wants to make careful decisions.

Wingard said he wants to make sure proper procedures are taken to maintain the town council's integrity and to make sure the town of Orono's order is preserved. 

The town has a charter, and changing the election date would require an ordinance change, Wingard said. 

He said although he is the town chair, he doesn't speak for the council as a collective, and his concerns are his own, 

Council member Leo Kenney also expressed his own concerns at the committee meeting. 

Glover said he fully believes that moving the local election date to a date that is more consistent with UMaine student's schedule would result in more students getting out to vote. 

The fewer the hurdles students have to jump to participate in elections, the better, Glover said. 

"I think the basic principle of democracy is that like those impacted by policies ought to have a say in electing officials and having their voice heard in our elections," Glover said. "I think any steps we take to ensure that more people have an opportunity to cast a ballot as easily as possible with as few hurdles as possible, I think that's good thing." 

There have not been any decisions made. Wilson said the town's clerk's office is there to help if students have any questions. 

To view the town's committee meeting, click here

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