Augusta city councilors, concerned residents could have to risk exposure to the coronavirus to vote in an election scheduled for June, voted to delay the election until July 14, the date state officials already selected as the new date for the state primary election.

As part of that unanimous vote Thursday, councilors also extended until May 15 the time frame candidates have to collect the nomination paper signatures required to be placed on the ballot. The initial deadline was last week.

A potential candidate for the position told At-Large Councilor Raegan LaRochelle it has been problematic collecting signatures due to the social distancing rules in effect in Maine due to the coronavirus.

Jan Michaud, the only candidate for the vacant Ward 3 Augusta Board of Education seat to submit petition papers by the deadline, wrote a letter giving her blessing to lengthening the period of time other potential candidates will now have to collect signatures.

“Our citizens are faced with health challenges we haven’t faced in generations,” Michaud’s letter states. “We must therefore be flexible in an area that affects one of our most precious rights, the right to elect candidates to office. Although I have already turned in my signature petition with the city clerk, I understand there is another candidate who has not been able to. Therefore I respectfully request the council give due consideration to move the deadline for filing these petitions.”

Mayor David Rollins said Michaud taking that stance made the decision to extend the filing deadline easier for councilors, some of whom previously expressed concerns an extension could be unfair to Michaud.

“That’s an excellent letter from candidate Michaud and certainly goes a long way to helping us decide what to do with this,” he said, “which could be a complicated decision but for her willingness to accept the circumstances.”

To be on the ballot, school board candidates must submit signatures of at least 50 qualified voters.

In addition to filling the vacant Ward 3 school board seat on July 14, voters also will vote on the proposed school budget.

Councilors have said they were concerned keeping the election on June 9 could put residents and poll workers at risk of exposure to coronavirus, and cited long lines at the polls in a recent election in Wisconsin.

In another election-related matter, City Manager William Bridgeo said he’d put an order on next week’s council agenda to discuss possibly consolidating the polls for the July 14 election to a single location, instead of having voting at individual polls in the city’s four voting wards.

He said Tracy Roy, acting city clerk, told him she’s concerned the city may not have enough poll workers to staff four polling places.

Bridgeo said most of the city’s experienced poll workers are senior citizens who are considered more susceptible to the effects of coronavirus.

Rollins suggested last week the city consider use extensive absentee mail-in balloting. But at least one councilor, Ward 3’s Michael Michaud, expressed concerns voting by mail could be more open to attempts to vote illegally.

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