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Pandemic poses challenges for campaigns

By Susan Mustapich | Apr 06, 2020
Courtesy of: Alison McKellar New ways of moving forward with requirements for election to local offices evolve in Camden in order to maintain social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Camden — Two Select Board members planning to run for reelection came up with different ways to collect signatures from Camden residents, a step required to place their names on the ballot. Meanwhile, the pandemic has stalled campaigns for those running for the Maine House and Senate.

While state measures to protect the public from the spread of COVID-19 may allow June election methods and town meeting dates to be modified, board members Bob Falciani and Alison McKellar are moving forward with business — almost as usual — at the advice of town attorney Bill Kelly.

Falciani, currently chairman of the Select Board, said he casually called contacts, asking if he could drop off his nomination papers on their front steps, while he waited in his car to pick them up.

"Without exception, everyone has said absolutely we want to do this, no problem. In fact, some have been very thankful," he said.

"For me, it's been a nice thing to talk to people and reinforce the normalcy of some things," he said.

Social distancing will also be maintained when nomination papers are dropped off, Falciani said.

Town Clerk Katrina Oakes said Falciani arranged with her to return his nomination papers April 6.

McKellar, who is vice chairman, used a different method for collecting signatures.

She put her nomination papers on a chair by the curb outside. She attached a handwritten poster asking registered voters to sign them.

"I did the curbside signature thing and it worked great," she said, adding the drive-up method collected the needed 25 signatures in just a few hours.

While the Town Office is closed to the public, Oakes said she is doing her best to "make it easy for the candidates."

She can still be reached by telephone and email by those who want to return nomination papers or pick them up. Nomination papers must be signed by at least 25 registered voters from the town of Camden, and are due back to the Town Office no later than Friday, April 10, at 3:30 p.m.

Oakes said April 6 that in addition to Falciani and McKellar, Peter Lindquist has taken out nomination papers for the open positions on the Select Board. The seats are three-year terms. Marcus Mrowka has taken out nomination papers for a three-year seat on the Camden-Rockport and Five Town CSD school board.

When a candidate returns nomination papers, Oakes witnesses an oath the candidate must sign. Then she certifies the signatures, by comparing each person's signature to the signature on their voter registration card.

Falciani acknowledged that the signature collection is occurring at a time when the tradition of voting at the polls and holding town meeting is wrapped in uncertainty.

"At this point, we have to proceed as if the June election will occur at the same time it has been planned. We want to be optimistic," he said. "We don't want to change anything until we have a clearer vision of tomorrow.

"At the same time, we're beginning to discuss what we will do should that not occur." He said towns "now have the authority from the governor to move the meeting forward and operate under the existing budget."

State races

For some running for higher offices, the pandemic has forced them to put their campaigns on hold.

"For all intents and purposes, I have suspended any official campaigning for two reasons," said Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos, an independent from Friendship. "First, I am too busy helping people as we navigate this crisis. Second, it just seems rather untoward to even be campaigning right now. So I hope people will recognize the good work that is being done and will remember this come November."

He encourages other politicians to follow the same path.

"The politicians who are busy with fundraising have been receiving an earful from me," he said. "I tell them to knock it off, people are going broke and getting sick and they're out asking for money? Pretty sad that they are that insensitive."

He noted that it is not safe or wise to knock on doors right now, and going door-to-door has been a tradition for local people running for a place in the State House.

Rep. Vicki Doudera, D-Camden, said she was glad she got clean elections donations and signatures early.

"Although I certainly did not predict this pandemic, I had a feeling at the end of 2019 that I would have a very busy spring, so I held my campaign kickoff in January."

She said she has gotten the paperwork out of the way.

"I can focus entirely on helping my constituents, communities and businesses get through this crisis, and work toward a healthy future for when we’re on the other side," she said. "We will get through this. In the meantime, wash your hands and wear your masks!"

Sen. David Miramant, D-Camden, said the situation has created a challenge for candidates still gathering qualifying contributions to receive Clean Election funds.

"My colleagues and I stopped all campaigning to focus on the needs of the community," he said. "We have been doing wellness calls to vulnerable residents and establishing a network of volunteers to help when needed. In most cases, businesses and individuals have been adjusting their lives to slow the spread of COVID-19, and many people have been doing incredible work to help those in need."

"...Regardless of whether I get the contributions I need for Clean Elections, I will continue to seek reelection to the Senate –– I might just have to get creative like we all do these days.

"Candidates who face a primary challenge do need to get the word out by June," he said. "They aren't campaigning much, but I know a few candidates have posted on Facebook to remind folks that they're running, even if they're spending most of their time helping folks in other ways.

"We all face challenges to our normal way of life, and from what I've seen most people are working together to help their friends and neighbors get through this safely. Folks are stepping up and making sure no one is forgotten. This is true not just for the candidates, but for everyone, and I am so impressed and grateful for the courage and compassion I've seen during this crisis."

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