Local questions add cost

SOUTHWEST HARBOR — If a town places local questions on a state election ballot, a separate count will be required because of ranked-choice voting, according to local officials. That means hiring an extra ballot counter or using a second machine.

Renting a separate machine can cost the town $1,800, Town Clerk Marilyn Lowell has told selectmen. The town typically opts to hire a ballot counter, she said, which costs less than renting a machine.

Selectmen were debating whether to add two local questions for the Nov. 6 election, but decided to postpone those votes until either next year’s annual town meeting or a special town meeting.

Whether that extra cost is a financial burden can depend on the size of the town, Bar Harbor Town Clerk Sharon Linscott said. There are local questions before the voters of Bar Harbor this November, a zoning change and whether to create a commission to review the town’s charter.

“We already had two machines,” she said, and the town designates one for the state ballot and one for the local ballot. “It started with ranked-choice voting in June and it is the case in November … It is true we can’t use the same machine for state elections and local ballots.”

As a result, the town had longer lines than usual during the June election.

“In line we asked people to separate their ballots,” said Linscott, adding the machines were next to one another. “It takes a few minutes to register the votes.”

After voters dropped their ballot in the first machine, they had to wait before submitting the second in the next machine. Maintaining confidentiality during the process was important so it took a little longer, according to Linscott.

Ellsworth City Clerk Heidi Grindle said they brought in four extra machines in June for the different ballots.

“I rented four machines in June so that we could process our local ballots and extended the contract to cover the November Election,” said Grindle. “To rent our machines was approximately $1,000 per machine per election, including the shipping. It may be slightly less than the $1,800 figure because we ordered four and kept them for two election cycles.

“I agree it is likely more than most towns can afford,” said Grindle. “However, in our case the volume of ballots that would have needed to be hand counted following a very long day would have cost us additional money in wages.”

It is also an option to clear the machines and process all local ballots on the same machine as the state ballots, Grindle said. But that is also very time consuming and would require paying someone for the extra time, she added. Renting the machines seemed the most reasonable option for the city, where in the last gubernatorial election, 65 percent of the roughly 6,000 registered voters turned out.

As the state continues with ranked-choice voting elections, the process of counting the multiple layers of votes may get easier and more efficient. But at this point, towns adding local questions to a state election ballot will need to depend on more people for counting votes, or an additional machine to be able to release results in a timely manner.

“I am hopeful moving forward towns may be able to rent them for a lower cost,” said Grindle. “The state contract on the machines expires soon and a new contract will be negotiated. During this process it may be possible for towns to rent the additional machines under that contract.”


Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

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

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