CAMDEN — It’s a strange year, all municipal clerks agree, as they cope with a surge of citizens voting via absentee ballot instead of traveling to the polls July 14.
Even the date for the 2020 primary election and municipal and school budget business, normally held in June, is unsettling; Mid-summer in Maine is for boating, swimming and picnics, not for weighty issues, such as voting on zoning changes, public expenditures, select board members and political party nominees.
But in droves, Camden citizens have requested absentee ballots from the Camden Town Office; as of July 8, 1,603 have been distributed to Camden voters and 800 have already been returned, according to Camden Town Clerk Katrina Oakes. As a comparison, the most absentee ballots ever issued in Camden totaled 1,666, and that was during a presidential election, not a primary election.
Everything this year is for the history books. Because of the pandemic, Camden has opted to put its municipal warrant and budget before voters on the ballot. There will be no convening for annual town meeting at the Camden Opera House.
The town warrant, which includes 16 articles pertaining to the budget and town and school official candidates, joins seven other state and school budget ballots that are available now via absentee voting, and will available July 14 at the town polling place.
At least the latter is consistent with conventional voting history; polls will be open, as they always are, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., at the Camden Fire Station.
But the arrangement there will be different: There will be no curtains on the booths (to avoid another point of contact with pathogens); town staff will be present helping the Election Warden Peter Gross; and everyone will be wearing masks, some with plastic shields.
Meanwhile, staff is already preparing for the task of absentee ballot processing, and will get a jump on it this coming weekend.
Election Warden Gross and Deputy Warden Beth Ward will begin opening envelopes and tallying absentee ballots on Saturday, July 11, on the third floor of the Camden Opera House.
A group of people will be helping them, said Oakes.
However, she stressed, as did the Select Board at its July 7 regularly scheduled meeting, that no one will be looking at the ballot results, or talking about them.
Oakes said the process entails opening envelopes, checking off voters’ names on the voting list, and sending the ballots through the voting machine.
The machine tabulates the returns and records them on a memory stick. After 8 p.m., July 14, the wardens will print a tally tape of all the returns, both submitted absentee or at the July 14 polls.
That’s when the results become public.
“We don’t know anything,” said Oakes, prior to the final tally tape printing.
On the Camden ballot
In addition to a proposed $9.6 million 2020-2021 municipal budget (down 1.84 percent from 2019), the town warrant asks voters to approve zoning and ordinance changes, as well as amending the town’s zoning map.
Articles 4 asks voters to consider amending the definition of an accessory apartment, and adding their permitted use to certain zones in town.
Article 6 asks voters to approve a review process for any proposed demolition of certain historic structures.
Three candidates are vying for two seats on the Camden Select Board. Seeking reelection are Robert Falciani and Alison McKellar, while Peter Lindquist has also entered the race.
Read their answers to questions here: