With safe, unhindered access to the polls a concern in the upcoming November elections, city councilors, who previously rejected a staff proposal to consolidate voting from all four wards in one location, agreed to move the Ward 1 polling site to the Augusta State Armory.

The armory is right across Western Avenue from the city’s previous polling location, at Buker Community Center, where officials said there wouldn’t be enough space for required social distancing due to the coronavirus pandemic.

So councilors voted unanimously last week to move the polling place to the armory, which has been used in the past as a polling place, and where there is much more room to spread out. The Buker Community Center is home to the city’s childcare program which, if the polls remained there, could have been forced to close for Election Day.

“It’s unfortunate we do have to move the polling place, because we’d like to keep it where it is, but due to COVID we do need to move it to the other facility,” said Marci Alexander, an at-large councilor. “It’s a better setup, we can allow more people in it and in inclement weather it will protect the voters. It will be an inconvenience but is doable for this election cycle. I think it’s the right thing to do to keep our citizens safe. So the people that want to come and vote can do so in person, and the people who’d like to vote absentee, obviously, can do that as well.”

Mayor David Rollins said the armory has been used as the Ward 1 polling place before, so it should be familiar to residents. He said he hasn’t heard from anyone with complaints about the armory as a voting location.

Now the push is on to round up enough poll workers to oversee voting in the four wards. Since there will be a presidential election in November, a large turnout is expected.

A major reason city staff recommended consolidating voting for all four wards, at the Augusta Civic Center, was due to a lack of enough poll workers to cover that many polling places.

Susan Robertson, director of human resources and an assistant city manager, said the city has struggled to find enough poll workers to cover elections. One reason for the shortage is that many workers tend to be older residents who have the time to do so, but are also among the higher risk population for potential coronavirus-related health problems.

This November, Augusta’s Ward 1 voters will not vote at Buker Community Center — as they are pictured doing in March — but rather will move across Western Avenue to the armory to allow for more social distancing. With a presidential election on the ballot, officials expect a high turnout of voters. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file Buy this Photo

City Manager William Bridgeo said the city is working hard to fill that shortage of poll workers, but still needs some more.

He said he reached out to University of Maine at Augusta officials who were responsive and are directing interested students to the city. Some citizens have expressed interest in working the polls, he said, adding that he authorized a 25% increase in poll worker pay — to $15 an hour — in hopes of attracting enough to cover the polls in four voting locations on Nov. 3.

Rollins urged residents to choose how they are going to vote as soon as possible and, if they can, to vote early to help reduce the number of people at the polls, amid the pandemic, on an Election Day which has prompted concerns about everyone being able to vote.

Rollins said Augusta residents can vote at the polls in person on Election Day or vote absentee ahead of time. Voters can request a ballot be mailed or pick one up at city hall and either mail it back, return it in person or put it in a secure metal dropbox  just outside the entrance to Augusta City Center. Residents may also fill out their absentee ballot in person at city center.

He said he also spoke to the Augusta postmaster who told him the Augusta Post Office will be prepared to help ensure mailed-in ballots make it to the city to be counted.

“Long lines could be an issue, and safety is definitely going to be an issue, so, for your own concerns, for your own safety, your own comfort zone, please plan the ways you want to vote,” Rollins urged residents last week. “There’s no reason for any of us to expose ourselves to unnecessary risks, so please plan how you will do that.”

In past elections the city’s other three polling places have been Augusta City Center for Ward 2, Augusta Civic Center for Ward 3, and Cony High School for Ward 4.

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