The Mills Administration today released detailed guidance for Maine local governing bodies to hold gatherings, such as annual town meetings, school budget meetings, and elections, during the COVID-19 pandemic. The guidance, which takes the form of a COVID-19 Prevention Checklist, was developed in close collaboration with public health officials, the Department of the Secretary of State, the Maine Municipal Association and other relevant associations and individuals.
"Maine people value and cherish the opportunity to gather and share our opinions, debate vigorously and vote on matters that affect our lives, a tradition that is at the heart of democracy," said Governor Mills. "Unfortunately, this virus, which thrives indoors with crowds of people, makes gatherings like these potentially dangerous. This guidance, developed in close collaboration with the Secretary of State and local leaders, will preserve the ability of people to express their opinions while protecting the health and safety of Maine people in the face of a deadly virus."
The guidance issued Monday complements a recent Executive Order signed by Governor Mills that gives communities greater flexibility in conducting election and budget processes during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under Stage 2 of the Administration’s Restarting Maine’s Economy Plan, gatherings of up to 50 individuals are permitted. For those official meetings that may surpass 50 people, this guidance recommends that planners conduct public meetings in various ways, including allowing "drive-in" meeting formats or by separating citizens into smaller groups within various areas of a single facility.
"The guidance issued today provides communities with two options for conducting traditional town meetings that exceed the current 50-person gathering limit," said Kate Dufour, Director of State and Federal Relations for the Maine Municipal Association. "Taking into consideration the historic importance of Maine town meetings and our strong commitment to home rule authority, this is an important and much appreciated path forward for municipalities."
In addition, towns may also convert town meetings to referenda and/or secret ballot voting on July 14 or another date, per COVID-19 prevention guidance on elections published by the Maine Department of the Secretary of State. Under its guidance, the Secretary of State advises voters to allow additional time to complete the voting process, as wait times are expected to be longer than usual due to capacity limits, social distancing and sanitization measures at the polling site. These measures include sanitizing voting equipment, such as pens, the placement of barriers where physical distancing is not manageable and managing capacity to ensure fewer than 50 people are inside at one time.
"Your polling place is going to look a bit different for this election, as clerks implement hygiene and distancing procedures to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus," said Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap. "If you usually budget only a few minutes to stop in and vote, you’ll need to plan on a longer wait this year, just like you do for the grocery store or other shops. One way to cut your wait time and your exposure is to take care of registering to vote ahead of time, with your municipal clerk."
Poll workers will wear cloth face coverings and other personal protective equipment to protect public health while voting, and voters are also encouraged to do so.
"We are asking all voters to wear a face covering when you go to vote, to help protect our election workers and other voters, but you can’t be turned away if you forget to wear one," said Secretary Dunlap. "Any voter who is not comfortable going to the polls for this election is welcome to vote by absentee ballot, by contacting your town clerk or using our online request service."