Voters fill out their ballots in June 2022 at the Augusta Civic Center. The city-owned facility is now the polling place for residents of Ward 3, but could become the polling place for all Augusta voters. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

AUGUSTA — Some city councilors plan to propose that Augusta consolidate all voting from the current four ward polling locations to one site — the Augusta Civic Center.

But others are worried that doing so could make it harder for people without transportation to get to the polls and, thus, could be a form of voter suppression.

Concerns about problems at some of the city’s four polling locations, combined with the growing challenge of finding enough qualified poll workers to staff four separate locations, prompted city councilors to ask staff to review the issue and come back with a recommendation.

Problems at the existing ward-based polling locations have included long lines, inadequate parking and congested schools where students might be disrupted by voters.

City Clerk Kelly Gooldrup has studied the idea and recommended the city consolidate all voting at the Augusta Civic Center, as a way to address concerns about the city’s three other ward voting locations and allow elections to be run with fewer staff and at less cost, without the need to spread out workers at the four sites.

Ward 1 Councilor Michael Michaud said he plans to sponsor an order for councilors to consider the idea.


“The Augusta Civic Center makes the most sense. From any direction in Augusta, you’re probably seven to eight minutes from that facility,” Michaud told city councilors last week when they discussed consolidation. “The city is struggling to find folks to work the polls. I think it makes the most sense. It will save a bit of money. It will certainly take the burden off the city clerk a bit and make it a cleaner, safer place for people to vote.

“I’m really not sure that anybody even walks to the polls anymore. I think everybody either gets a ride or drives themselves. That’s my observation.”

Some city councilors said there are voters for whom walking to the polls is pretty much their only option. They do not have vehicles or driver’s licenses, so if they have to walk a good distance to vote, they might not vote at all, leading to possible voter suppression.

At-Large Councilor Abigail St. Valle said those most likely to be impacted by a consolidation of voting would be marginalized people who do not have a license or vehicle. Also, those who do not speak English might have a hard time getting a license or vehicle. St. Valle said said the problem is worsened in places like Augusta, which has no public transportation.

“The Civic Center being way out there would require you to drive to the polls, because you’re not going to walk,” she said. “There are a lot of gaps in people being able to have access to a vehicle or become licensed. That’d make it voter suppression because those marginalized communities that aren’t able to receive their licenses aren’t able to go to vote.”

Michaud said the city could try a pilot program for the first consolidated election, providing transportation from the other three voting sites — Buker Community Center, Augusta City Center and Cony High School — to the Civic Center.


Ward 4 Councilor Eric Lind said he, at 61, has always voted in his ward and would miss that connection, but the current system is flawed and could be improved through consolidation.

Lind said he has concerns about finding enough qualified election wardens to oversee the polls, which he said would be addressed by consolidating voting at one location and reducing the need for election workers.

He agreed transportation to the polls is a concern, and said it might be an easier problem to solve with one polling place.

Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti said she is largely ambivalent about the proposal, but said it might be a change that is hard to accept for residents who are used to voting in their neighborhood.

“I do see value in our neighborhood places. I do see value in high school students seeing grown-ups get out and vote. I do see value in having it be part of the fabric of our community that we vote in our neighborhood,” Conti said. “But I also see cost cutting and efficiencies in consolidation.”

Michaud said he would work on a consolidation proposal, which would be an ordinance change and require two readings, each of which would include a chance for public comment.

Augusta already has consolidated the voting for some elections when the turnout was expected to be low.

Data provided by Gooldrup showed the average cost to run a consolidated election with state and municipal ballots was $28,147, while the average cost to run an election with the individual ward polling sites was $40,643.

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