BY MADDY JACKSON
Beginning at 7 am on Tuesday, residents of Orono began submitting their votes for the 2016 election. For the first time Orono polls were held at the University of Maine New Balance Field House.
In previous years, polling locations for Orono residents have
been split between the University of Maine Memorial Union and Orono Middle School. The decision to move the polling location came when the Orono Town Council received information that indicated the numbers for this presidential election were going to be significantly higher than normal.
For some, the move caused a few inconveniences.
“It is a little more of a hike for [residential voters] and a little more of a walk than what they are used to.” said Shelly Crosby, Orono Town Clerk. Crosby was influential in the change of the polling location.
For others, the move gave them reason to vote.
For first time voters and students like Ben Duddy, a sophomore Civil Engineering student at the University of Maine, having the polls on campus is convenient.
“I live off campus so I have to drive here anyway, but it still makes it more convenient.” said Duddy.
University of Maine students like Duddy felt that the experience of voting on campus had an overall smooth feel.
First year Computer Engineering student, Kent Seneres, went through the registration and voting process all on Tuesday at the Field House.
“[The process] was very easy and painless.” said Seneres.
Second year Computer Engineering student, Andrew Johnson, had similar feelings. For Johnson, watching the election unfold was the hardest part about the voting process.
“The voting part and registration were painless, but the campaign was a tragedy to watch.” said Johnson.
Crosby wasn’t sure whether or not there was a higher student presence at the polls than what they normally receive, but noted that there was definitely a steady flow of students coming in.
“We are extremely busy with voter registration of the college kids.” said Crosby.
Crosby felt that the rapid influx of students registering to vote was most likely because of the specific issues on this 2016 ballot.
Yanni Roguski, a first year Psychology major, felt that the reason for the high volume of student voters present could be explained by the location.
“I think a lot of these kids, students, wouldn’t be voting if this weren’t here.” said Roguski. “On campus [voting] is perfect, it’s convenient, it’s near everything. I didn’t have to walk more than five minutes to vote and that’s perfect.”
The decision to move had, first and foremost, accessibility in mind. The New Balance Field House first had its appeal because of its capability to accommodate a large number of voters and residents concerned about accessing the polls. The Orono Police Department and the University of Maine Police Department, as well as many town staff members, worked all day to assure that anyone who was concerned about accessibility had the chance to vote.
The moving of the polls to campus did, however, bring with it some traffic issues. The University of Maine Parking Services designated the entire North Gym Lot to voters. This caused some issues as far as campus travel was concerned.
To combat these traffic issues, the Black Bear Orono Express and the Community Connector bus systems offered people traveling to and from the polls free transportation. This helped to cut down on voters driving through campus as well as lack of parking. The University of Maine Parking Services also operated their telephone helpline all day to assure any student needing parking information, or any visitor seeking a space, could locate one quickly.
Some voters admitted that the move to the University of Maine New Balance Field House raised some concerns for the transportation aspect.
“I was a little worried about the parking situation, but it was totally fine.” said Jessamy Luthim, 27, of Orono.
Luthim is a long term resident of Orono and has voted at the Orono Middle School in previous elections. One of the biggest concerns for Luthim was the wait time to vote since all Orono residents were congregated in one location, but the efforts to combat these concerns made a seemingly large impact.
“I didn’t have to wait at all.” said Luthim.
Crosby and the other poll workers had the wait time in mind all throughout the day. For this election, the town of Orono put in an additional 20 voting booths in an effort to help voters avoid standing in line for long periods of time.
“We tried to take into consideration the lines and the wait time and we ended up putting in extra voting booths.” said Crosby.
These large numbers of voters could easily be due to the volume of college students. Their presence was overwhelming. Around the time most classes had ended for the day, the line, consisting of mostly students registering to vote, was wrapped around the entire track inside the Field House.
“I have never seen this many college students at a polling place before.” said Luthim.
Students only made up a fraction of the population at the polls today. Among the attendees were the Maine Equal Justice Partners.
The Maine Equal Justice Partners took advantage of the influx of Orono residents to a single location throughout the day by asking voters for signatures regarding the issue of expanding healthcare.
Tabitha Caron, 27, of Bangor was among those working to gather signatures.
“It is a really important issue.” said Caron. Caron and the Maine Equal Justice Partners had members at every polling location across the state to gather signatures in an attempt to bring the issue of expanding Medicaid to nearly 70,000 Maine residents to ballot.
University of Maine head football coach, Joe Harasymiak, also attended the polls, in Old Town, during the day Tuesday.
“I wanted to be a part of something.” said Harasymiak.
Harasymiak’s vote was influenced heavily by social media, such as Twitter, and the information provided on these sites.
Some of this information that has been prevalent among Twitter posts in the past couple of months included accusations of poll “rigging.” With this idea circulating, poll officials were sure to take very specific precautions.
“We have checks and balances in place for every process that we do whether it is at voter registration, the incoming table, inside the guardrails, or at the ballot box.” said Crosby. “We are doing everything that we can to reduce any type of concern around that topic.”
University of Maine Police Department and Orono Police Department also teamed up to assure that students and Orono residents had the safest experience while casting their votes. They attempted to keep a general presence on campus throughout the day, and to assure that voters have a piece of mind. Despite the large number of visitors on campus to vote, the members of the police forces felt they had a good grasp on the situation as a whole.
“[It’s] just another day for us at UMPD.” said Roland LaCroix, Chief of Police at University of Maine Police Department. “We just want to have a general presence, keeping people safe and having peace of mind.”
Despite the looming discussion of “rigging,” most voters felt that their vote was safe.
“In my opinion I think that it is not rigged.” said Duddy. “It is pretty straight forward, [and it is] pretty hard to [rig the vote] especially nowadays.”
“I’m not sure [if my vote is safe]. Hopefully, but that’s kinda out of my hands. I wish it weren’t.” said Roguski.
Overall the support for voting on campus again was prevalent among the crowd. Despite the fact that voting on campus occupied the athletic facility, athletic administrators supported the idea as well.
“We are very happy that the town of Orono and student-body are all coming to our New Balance Field House on such a special day for our country.” said Tyson McHatten, UMaine Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations.
Voting on campus gained support from not only the staff, but the Orono residents, the students, and the people in charge of organizing the polls. The University of Maine New Balance Field House may be the setting for future elections.
Matthew Burrows and Luis Lopez contributed to this story.