South Portland to follow law on polling places
By Tess NacelewiczSOUTH PORTLAND - The City Council is expected to vote Jan. 21 on establishing five polling places in the city for a special election in February - as a judge has ordered it to do.
©Copyright 1998 Guy Gannett Communications
Voters will decide Feb. 10 whether to repeal the state's new law extending equal-rights protections to homosexuals. A divided City Council earlier voted to consolidate its usual five polling places into just one for that election. Voter turnout in special elections is traditionally low and the city wanted to save money.
But the Maine Civil Liberties Union and two local residents took the city to court, saying that having only one polling place would dissuade some people from voting. A judge granted a temporary restraining order Friday, saying the city must have at least one polling place in each of the city's five voting districts.
Superior Court Justice Roland A. Cole agreed with the MCLU's arguments that the city hadn't adequately informed residents the council would hold a public hearing before it voted to consolidate the polling places on Dec. 8. And the judge also agreed with the MCLU's contention that the city violated its charter by establishing fewer than five voting places.
Following the judge's ruling, city officials at first were uncertain about how the council could follow the judge's order and obey laws concerning the timely notice of public meetings and elections.
Councilor Kevin J. Glynn wanted the council to vote on setting the polling places at Monday night's meeting. But the city attorney, Mary Kahl, warned councilors they hadn't notified the public of an impending vote.
Instead, she advised the council to hold a public hearing and a vote on the polling places at its next regular meeting, which is Jan. 21 at 7 p.m. in City Hall.
City officials had been concerned about the council holding a vote so close to the election. They had believed that it was necessary to inform the public of the location of polling places at least 30 days before an election.
But Kahl received a letter from the state Attorney General's Office shortly before Monday's meeting, advising that only voting districts must be defined 30 days before the election. Polling places within voting districts can be established up to seven days before the election, the letter from Assistant Attorney General Phyllis Gardiner said.
Glynn, who opposed consolidating the polling places and helped draw the MCLU's attention to the city's action, wanted the council to approve a sixth polling place. He said the city had already advertised the one polling place the council had previously approved, the main branch of the public library on Broadway.
But Kahl said that because of the way the voter lists are handled, there could be only one polling place within each district. Glynn had suggested voters could vote with absentee ballots at the library, but Kahl said state law says absentee ballots can only be used through the mail, at the City Clerk's office or at nursing homes.
In other business Monday, the council voted 5-2 to accept a federal grant of $75,000 to help pay for a police officer to become a school resource officer at the high school for the next three years. The school department will add $44,000 to fully finance the position, which likely will be filled next fall.
Several councilors said they didn't want an officer patrolling school halls. Assistant Principal Ronald Allanach said the officer would do some law enforcement when needed but that the officer's primary job would be interacting with students and teaching courses such as criminal justice.
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