Poll worker Eric Benson checks voters in at the Southwest Harbor Fire Station on Tuesday for the annual Town Meeting vote by ballot. More residents voted than in previous years, mostly by absentee ballot, and passed all articles handily. ISLANDER PHOTO BY SARAH HINCKLEY

Higher turnout at the polls

SOUTHWEST HARBORDespite a clunky start to the town’s first ballot-only Town Meeting, voters turned out in higher numbers than a typical year and passed all articles handily. 

“It was a rough start,” Town Manager Justin VanDongen reported to selectmen during their Tuesday night meeting via Zoom. “The ballot machine refused to count.” 

Fortunately, Tremont was willing to lend their ballot counting machine to the town and by the end of the day, 231 ballots had been tallied.  

“We’ve had, I think, a better turn out this year,” said Town Clerk Marilyn Lowell from the polls in the fire station on Tuesday. “It was a lot more work. Absentee ballots were a lot more work.”  

A trickle of folks went in person to the fire station on Main Street to vote throughout the day, but most voted via absentee ballot. About 350 absentee ballots were sent out to residents who had requested one for the state primary election in July.  

Voters overwhelmingly supported the municipal and school budgets at this year’s Town Meeting. Every article on the warrant in ballot form passed by a margin of at least 120 votes.  

There were two missteps on the ballot, according to VanDongen. A request from Mount Height Cemetery for an amount greater than $10,000, which is the threshold for nonprofits, did not make it onto the ballot.  

“We’ll have to put on a single warrant article at the November election to put to voters whether or not to approve that funding,” said VanDongen about the $12,700 request. “We’ll likely have to take that money out of surplus so that we can get taxes committed appropriately. It won’t affect the tax dollars but it will come out of surplus.” 

Incorrectly numbered articles were the second snafu on the ballot. Article 39 was accidentally left on the ballot even though it was unnecessary for voters to weigh in on it.  

“It wasn’t even a necessary article,” said VanDongen on Wednesday morning. “It was left over from last year when we reorganized all the CIP accounts.” 

In his report to selectmen, VanDongen said he was checking with Maine Municipal Association to see if there were any necessary follow-up actions that need to be made as a result of the vote.  

Results of the two straw poll questions were also in favor of continuing planned efforts for an island-wide middle school and addressing the overpopulation of deer in town.  

Each town on Mount Desert Island did its annual Town Meeting a little differently this year in response to COVID-19. Bar Harbor and Mount Desert conducted outside meetings in a parking lot at the high school, similar to this year’s graduation ceremony. Tremont put all of its warrant articles on a ballot for voters to decide on the same day as the state primary election in July. Those votes were all hand counted at the end of the day. 

Residents of Southwest Harbor were asked to vote in two phases this year. In July, in conjunction with the state’s primary election, there were two questions before voters. They voted down spending $1.9 million on a proposed town garage and in favor of changes made to the Coastal Waters and Harbor Ordinance.  

Proposed changes to several of the town’s ordinances, as well as a newly drafted marijuana ordinance, are slated to go before voters in November when the presidential election is held.  


Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.

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