Angela Nelson, China’s town clerk since July, opens the Town Office main entrance Tuesday and is ready for business. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

CHINA — With the town office running on a generator and internet service down, China Town Clerk Angela Nelson stayed plenty busy Thursday. She took the job late in the summer and is now preparing for the most polarizing election in recent history. The coronavirus pandemic further complicates her job.

After a midweek fall storm shut the town office down for a day and squashed internet reception for parts of two days, Nelson, who was promoted to her position in July, has about a month left to prepare for the Nov. 3 election. Nelson’s progress processing the record 832 absentee ballot requests from China voters slowed briefly due to the power outage, but that was a minor obstacle.

“Some days it feels like we’re drowning, but we can definitely get the job done,” Nelson said just after the power came back on and the town office returned to full operation. “Some days you look at the clock and it’s already time to leave, like, ‘where did the day go?'”

Luckily for the 41-year-old Nelson, a tremendous resource in Town Manager Becky Hapgood has an office right next door and serves as a steadying force. Hapgood became China’s town manager in July after 26 years as town clerk when Dennis Heath stepped down. Nelson stepped into Hapgood’s role.

“She’s doing fantastic,” Hapgood said. “She’s taking it all in stride. She works with our deputy clerks, secretary of state’s office and other area clerks to find the best processes possible.”

Having a veteran clerk like Hapgood in the office alleviates some pressure.

“I’m very thankful that a seasoned, very experienced clerk is at my side,” Nelson said.

Nelson graduated from Winslow High School in 1998. The Vassalboro native now resides in Palermo with her husband, Troy, and two children, 17-year-old Alicia and 14-year-old Royce, a senior and freshman at Erskine Academy, respectively.

Nelson got her start in municipal administration in 2012 as Palermo’s part-time treasurer and deputy clerk. She moved to a full-time administrative assistant role in Sidney’s town office from March 2017 to October 2019, when she came to China as Hapgood’s deputy town clerk.

China town clerk Angela Nelson checks on some of the more than 800 absentee ballots on Thursday. Nelson took over as the new town clerk for China in July. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

CORONAVIRUS PRECAUTIONS

In the China Town Office, shower-like plastic curtains separate visitors from each work station. People doing business with the town must buzz in, and there’s a walkup window to drop off the first half of annual property taxes which were due last Friday.

“Every transaction takes at least three times as long because you have to clean each station,” Nelson said. “There’s a lot of cleaning between each person.”

Just two patrons are allowed in the office at a time. Masks, of course, are mandatory. Hand sanitizer is everywhere. The state and Center for Disease Control (CDC) limit gatherings indoors to 50 people, and the China Town Office never comes close to crossing that threshold.

THE ELECTION

Nelson’s first foray into running an election came as the pandemic wore on through the summer. China’s annual spring town meeting was canceled, so she trimmed the usual long list of warrant questions into a two-page written ballot as part of the July primary election.

“Everything was different that election,” Nelson said.

Of the 1,002 votes cast in July, 639 were absentee. For the Nov. 3 election, 832 absentee ballots have been requested as of Oct. 1, and Nelson expects the number to exceed 1,000 as the rest of China’s 2,962 registered voters make their voting plans. Nelson estimates some 75% of her daily work is related to the Nov. 3 election. The other 25% includes accounts payable, phone calls and other daily tasks.

“People just think we hang out until people come in, but there’s a lot happening behind the scenes,” Hapgood said.

Nelson oversees three full-time clerks and one part-timer who all help with voter registrations. Of course, the election is composed of more than just absentee ballots. Nelson expects a large turnout of in-person voters Nov. 3. After what she expects to be a “sleepless night,” she will arrive at the Town Office at 6 a.m. ahead of polls opening an hour later. The town has rented a tent to add more polling stations, and the staff yearns for good weather.

Hapgood said the town clerk’s workload is higher than ever before for a number of reasons. The absentee ballot process takes longer than ever and utilizing the state government’s Central Voter Registration (CVR) platform is a secure but arduous process.

“This is a very stressful time to be learning that job,” Hapgood said. “It’s tough to be a clerk right now, but you just have to smile each day.”

Absentee ballot requests come in by phone, mail or in person. Then Nelson and her team put the requests through the system, print labels, attach them to the envelope and stuff the ballots. They have yet to be mailed as the town waits for sample ballots from the state to compare their official ones to.

The town is also in the process of installing a drop box that allows voters to submit their absentee ballots without using the mail, if they so choose. The ballot box will be open at all times once it is installed in the coming days.

Nelson said one of the most important parts of her job is helping residents be comfortable with casting their vote, however they choose to do it.

“The program we have, the system we have is very secure,” Nelson said. “I know we have a lot of people who are concerned.”

Even when the clock ticks past midnight into Nov. 4, Nelson’s election season is far from over.

“Some people are like, ‘an election only lasts a day,'” Nelson said. “Yeah … no. They last months.”

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.