‘Skiing in new snow’: Selectmen recommend low turnout for Alna’s voting days

Elections, town meeting to go on during pandemic
Wed, 03/18/2020 - 8:45am
    Days of mulling, consulting and planning for Alna’s uncontested elections this Friday and the annual town meeting Saturday have led to a plan for munchies-free voting with other precautions and, on Saturday, a proposed compacted set of votes at town meeting.
    In email announcements Tuesday night, selectmen suggested people skip the elections and keep town meeting quick, to help minimize residents’ exposure to one another in the global coronavirus outbreak. As of Tuesday, the state said Lincoln County had two confirmed cases.
    In a phone interview Wednesday morning, Second Selectman Doug Baston said planning during the outbreak has been like skiing in new snow. “You don’t quite know where you’re going, and you’re making tracks as you go.” 
    Did it feel strange to be discouraging attendance? “It’s kind of amazing how all of us adapted to that pandemic mindset and just went into action. So now it’s almost like I can’t remember a time before this,” Baston said. He hopes town meeting turnout will be in the single digits.
    The board wrote Tuesday night, “We don't usually discourage people from exercising their civic duty, but unless the ritual of doing so is very important to you, we would urge you to stay at home.”
    What will Friday’s voting in the fire station’s meeting room look like? One voter inside the room at a time; others are to wait in the entryway or parking lot; each voter receives a “freshly sanitized pen,” which gets deposited in a box after the ballot is filled out, the elections email continues. Exit the polls via the side door as usual; and the email notes, “the usual election munchies will not be available.”
    Town Clerk Liz Brown explained earlier in the week, changing the elections’ time and place was not an option. Selectmen wrote Tuesday night, “Even though there are no contested officers, law requires that we open the polls at 10:00 and allow people to vote. We met with the town clerk this morning and, in light of the public health emergency, mutually agreed on the ... special procedures to protect us all, particularly our most vulnerable citizens.”
    As for town meeting Saturday, selectmen said they consulted Maine Municipal Association and the town attorney. Without the meeting, the board will have no authority to pay salaries and bills, collect taxes and operate the town after March 31, selectmen said. So at 2 p.m. at the station, selectmen propose that items “almost never debated” become one article, using last year’s dollar amounts, to consider passing.  
    “Where your (advisement) is sought, we ask you to follow the Selectmen's recommendation or to perform the function the way we did last year.” 
    Selectmen also propose clustering this year’s new articles, then tabling them “until ... a date determined by the selectmen, based on the public health climate at the time ... If those in attendance (Saturday) – and we hope they are few (in) number and in the safest age ranges – accept this plan, we can be done in a few minutes and safely return home. Again, we cannot postpone this meeting and we must have some meeting to keep the town going.”
    The board proposes tabling a vote to draft an easement with Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to get Pinkham Pond a hand-carry boat launch site and parking lot at the agency’s expense; a town-funded, $6,800 parking lot, also at the pond; start having selectmen make fund-seeking organizations submit petitions signed by “at least 10% of the number of Alna voters in the last gubernatorial election”; and, if the requirement passes, does the town want to exempt anyone.
    Among other items proposed for tabling is what percentage the town would pay to maintain and repair the private Sand Building Road. The draft town meeting warrant had recommended the town pay 40%, “with (the) remaining 60% to be split equally among the remaining abutters, or ... other formula to which they mutually agree.”