A number of Maine schools that serve as Election Day polling places are canceling classes on Nov. 8, citing big crowds, possible parking and traffic issues, and student safety.

Officials at schools that are staying open say the physical layout of the campus allows voters access to the polls without interacting with any students.

“I was not comfortable last year with having polls open in our school,” said John Suttie, who is both district superintendent and principal of Old Orchard Beach High School, where a polling station is located. This year, classes are canceled for students but teachers will be there for a staff development day.

Old Orchard Beach usually cancels classes for presidential and gubernatorial elections and remains open during off-year elections.

“It’s not just about people coming in and casting their votes,” Suttie said of his concerns. “There are petitioners there, candidates are there, vendors are there. For me, that was really the catalyst for canceling classes.”

In southern Maine, more than a dozen schools have polling stations, including Biddeford, Brunswick, Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Freeport, Gorham, Lebanon, Lewiston, North Berwick, Old Orchard Beach, Scarborough, Wells and York. Most of them have canceled classes, and a few have made it a parent conference day or staff development day.


“We’ve been talking about it for a few weeks, and talking to town officials,” said Patti Gilley, principal at Lebanon Elementary School, which will remain open. “We have a plan in place and they (voters) really aren’t going to cross paths (with students.)”

Gilley said the layout of the rural school, with two buildings separated by a walkway, made it easier to remain open. Officials do anticipate big crowds and Maine State Police will help with traffic control and parking, she said.

State officials expect turnout to be slightly lower than in recent presidential elections, however. Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap anticipates turnout to be about 67 percent of registered voters, compared to 71 percent in 2012 and 76 percent in 2008. In off years, voter turnout typically dips to about 15 percent.

In addition to concerns about big crowds on Nov. 8, Maine schools are responding to safety issues. Schools have instituted new safety procedures and strict campus access rules in recent years in response to school shootings nationwide.

In Portland, which has three polling stations in schools, the School Board canceled classes at Deering High School and East End Community School but is keeping Reiche Community School open for students.

“At Deering, parking and traffic congestion on busy Stevens Avenue will be a problem on Election Day,” read a district notice. At East End, which closed during the 2008 election, the polling will be in an area students use and a long line would “likely stretch into student areas.”


Reiche can remain open because the polling location is in the community side of the building, apart from the classroom and student space.

Earlier this year, Deering High School was swamped during Maine’s Democratic presidential caucuses, which have a different voting process. The line to vote stretched for more than a half-mile and thousands of voters waited for up to four hours.

In Lewiston, Superintendent Bill Webster told parents that he was canceling classes at Montello School and Longley Elementary School.

“In reviewing our past experiences with elections and knowing the potential for a record-breaking number of voters this November, I have decided to excuse Longley and Montello students that day,” he wrote in a newsletter. “This decision is based upon the level of school disruption and safety compromise that would otherwise be expected.”

Cape Elizabeth town officials asked that the high school close this year, according to Interim Superintendent Howard Colter. The school board voted to amend the calendar in late August to make it a day off for students.

“Traffic, adequate parking, and safety are at the heart of their concern,” Colter said in a message to parents. Some students will be on election duty, however, as Cape seniors are offering rides to the polls for senior citizens in the area as a service project.


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