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Camden Herald Editorial

Jul 08, 2020

More will vote on town budgets July 14

A historic shift from attending town meetings in person to voting by paper ballot (at the polls and by absentee ballot) seems to be going smoothly so far.

The shift to voting by paper ballot is one of the many changes Midcoast residents have seen since mid-March, when the COVID-19 pandemic changed life as we know it, at least for the present.

The deadline is July 9 for requesting absentee ballots online (state system) and by phone (calling town offices). After that, residents must visit their town offices during business hours to pick up an absentee ballot, or can choose to vote there in person. On election day, July 14, residents can even pick up an absentee ballot for a family member, who may be ill that day and cannot come to the polls.

The long tradition of holding town meeting in Camden dates back to April 1791, when Maine was part of the commonwealth of Massachusetts, according to local historian and former editor of The Camden Herald Reuel Robinson. The meeting was held at the inn owned by Peter Ott at Goose River, an area which is now in Rockport. Selectmen, a town clerk, a constable and others were chosen. Attendees also voted for the governor and lieutenant governor of the commonwealth of Massachusetts, namely John Hancock and Samuel Adams.

Other town meetings were held that year in Camden. In June, the important business included accepting a county road, laid out the year before, which spanned the distance from Rockland, past Camden Harbor to an area called Little Duck Trap. This is the first road in Camden of which there is a record, Robinson writes.

The shift to voting by paper ballot this year will certainly bring more voters to the table than in any previous year. Registered voters in the towns of Camden, Rockport, Hope, Appleton and Lincolnville are requesting absentee ballots in large numbers.

Other than that, this is an experiment.

At town meeting, the municipal budget can be discussed by residents who attend, and changes can be made, though this may be rare. In years without controversy, the numbers who attend town meetings can be as low as 50 people. In those years, residents who attend are known to take care of town business efficiently.

A single controversy will bring many more people to town meetings, and with them, a diversity of opinions. This produces long town meetings with much discussion. The last time this happened was 2016, when voters faced a change of contract for solid waste disposal between EcoMaine, an existing facility that incinerates trash, and a not-yet-built facility, called Fiberright, which proposed a bio-processing method to convert solid waste to energy. As a result of the controversy, Camden, Rockport, Hope and Lincolnville, partners in this solid waste contract, saw high attendance. About 300 people came to town meeting in Camden that year.

As of July 7, 707 Camden residents have already voted by absentee ballot, and a total of 1,511 ballots have been issued by the town clerk's office. While we do not know what the results will be, we know more will have a say July 14 on the town budget than in any prior time in Camden's history. This unprecedented vote on town budgets will most likely occur in Hope, Appleton and Lincolnville as well.

Rockport residents also will vote by paper ballot in place of town meeting, but that will not take place until August. On July 14 they will vote only on local school budgets and state primary elections and bond issues.

Young voices heard

This July 4th, a large group of young people in our community took on inequalities in our country embodied by the killing of George Floyd. They marched through the streets of downtown Camden carrying "Black Lives Matter" and "All Countries Matter" signs, and gathered on the Public Landing for nine minutes of silence in Floyd's memory and speeches by several 18-year-old women who live here.

These young members of the surrounding communities are saying race is still being used to deny liberty and freedom to all Americans, and have as evidence the suffering of Black families and individuals from police chokeholds and shootings, disproportionate incarceration in our nation's prisons, and higher rates of infection and death due to COVID-19.

They are supporting the demands of national organizations for reforming police procedures. They spoke about democratic principles and about voting in state and presidential elections, which they will do for the first time in their lives this year.

Others might not agree with all of their views or the way they choose to express them. But one thing is certain — they are not seeking to divide our country. What they want is for all Americans to have the way of life they have known right here: a safe place to grow up without fear, great education, a relatively clean environment, the right to express their views and the ability to pursue many options in their future.

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