Griffin Stevenson, a freshman at the University of Maine, votes at Council Chambers in Orono. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Orono officials want more flexibility in scheduling local elections so they can avoid stretching town staff by having to hold elections just a week apart from each other.

Orono councilors on Monday scheduled a public hearing for a change to the town charter that would give the council more leeway in scheduling municipal elections in hopes of simplifying voting and election administration when state and municipal elections happen around the same time.

That hearing will take place Dec. 13.

Orono’s town charter currently designates the second Tuesday of March for municipal elections to choose town councilors and board members for Regional School Unit 26.

But in March 2020, that meant that Orono held its local elections just a week after a statewide election that featured the Democratic presidential primary and a ballot question on overturning a new state law that eliminated religious and philosophical exemptions from school vaccination requirements.

Orono Town Manager Sophie Wilson said the back-to-back elections can confuse voters, and they pose a logistical and staffing challenge as the town has to juggle administering two elections with different ballots around the same time.

“It’s not so much about money. It’s about staff,” she said. “It is about the logistics, that we’re having to manage two elections at the same time when you’re supposed to be freezing voter lists, and it is a headache behind the scenes for our two people running it.” 

Orono councilors on Monday were in favor of setting the hearing date but left town staff with the task of finalizing the specific proposed charter change — whether it’s giving the council flexibility to move the date of a local election when a state election is happening around the same time, or changing the charter to schedule municipal elections in June or November instead of March.

If the council continues to move forward after the hearing, the change would be on the next municipal ballot in March as a referendum question. 

Avatar photo

Sawyer Loftus

Sawyer Loftus is a reporter covering Old Town, Orono and the surrounding areas. A recent graduate of the University of Vermont, Sawyer grew up in Vermont where he's worked for Vermont Public Radio, The...