The Augusta Civic Center, seen on April 30, will be used as the sole polling place for city voting in July. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file Buy this Photo

A lack of poll workers and concerns about social distancing requirements meant to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus means Augusta residents who choose to vote in person will do so at the Augusta Civic Center for next month’s election.

City councilors recently approved the consolidation of voting in all four wards to the Augusta Civic Center for the July 14 state primaries and local elections.

They also plan to encourage residents to vote by absentee ballot before the day of the election. Officials hope to reduce the size of the crowd at the polls, where they said there are sure to be long lines due to social distancing requirements.

“The more people we can get to vote early, instead of on election day, the better,” Patti Dubois, Augusta’s new city clerk, told councilors last week as they discussed voting in the upcoming election. “We want to warn people — we don’t want to take away their right to vote in person, they certainly have that right — but they need to be prepared that it could be a wait in line, because of the situation.”

City Manager William Bridgeo said another reason to consolidate the polls is the city’s dwindling number of poll workers. He said many of them are older and thus at potentially higher risk of suffering serious health problems should they be exposed to the coronavirus.

Bridgeo said the city has struggled to attract enough poll workers, making it hard to find enough to cover separate polling stations if the city were to have voting take place as usual at locations in all four wards of the city.

Dubois said the city is likely short of the number of poll workers it should have even with the polls consolidated. She said the city currently has 16 poll workers, but probably needs 22 to 25 to adequately staff the consolidated polls in the city-owned Civic Center.

Starting pay for a poll worker in Augusta is $12 an hour, according to Susan Robertson, human resources director and assistant city manager. Dubois said she hopes to have two training sessions for poll workers in the week before the election.

The city must balance its poll workers so the number from each of the two major political parties — Democrat and Republican — doesn’t vary by more than one. Residents not enrolled in a political party may also work at the polls.

Dubois said she’d be happy to explore consolidating voting in Augusta longer term, not just for the next election, as cities including Bangor and Waterville have done. But Mayor David Rollins said that in the past Augusta residents have favored voting in locations in their own wards.

“This is a temporary situation, we’re not going to consolidated polls in the future, this is for COVID-19 safe distancing,” Rollins said. “I think the support (longer-term) would be to keep ward voting alive.”

Councilors voted unanimously June 4 to consolidate polls at the Civic Center. Local voting July 14 includes choosing a new Ward 3 school board member and ratification of the proposed school budget.

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