Voter stickers are seen at the University of Maine New Balance Student Recreation Center in Orono in this Nov. 8, 2016, file photo. Credit: Ashley L. Conti / BDN

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Dan Demeritt is an Orono resident and trust engineer, who uses people-centered communications and relationship-building strategies to help build trust and break new ground.  

“Come vote with us!”

This phrase is how I welcomed many of the Orono voters arriving to cast their ballots in person on Election Day at the New Balance Field House and Memorial Gymnasium on the University of Maine campus. This impromptu welcome was not the town’s official Election Day motto — we never discussed it — but it captured the sense of belonging that Orono voters experienced on Nov. 8.

Abraham Lincoln observed that “elections belong to the people.”

Seventy-one community members came together in Orono to prove Honest Abe right and deliver an election that celebrated our community and gave everyone a chance to participate. It was an honor getting my first experience as an election worker as part of a team committed to delivering a fair, accessible and transparent election.  

Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, the League of Women Voters, the Voter Integrity Project and Disability Rights Maine were among the visitors who observed Orono’s Election Day operation. These experts had no concerns with our operation, and the election staff received compliments on the professionalism and knowledge of our election team.  

Shelly Crosby, our competent and energetic town clerk, leads the work with great appreciation for all the help she gets from colleagues and community members.  

Promoting participation is a focus. Orono provided 13 hours of in-person voting, two days of early voting at the town office in late October, vote absentee anytime the office was open, and the chance to vote by mail. A total of 3,686 ballots were cast by Orono residents this fall.

Orono works in close partnership with staff and students at UMaine to seize its unique opportunity to engage young voters as the home of our state’s largest university. Many of the 1,160 new voter registrations and changes processed by the town this election were students exercising their right under Maine law to establish a voting residency where they attend college.  

Nothing is more fundamental in a free society than the right to establish residency in the community you call home. Orono can be proud so many new voters cast their first ballot with us!  

Election Day in Orono is all-access governing. Anyone interested in the process or the outcome can observe the operation and ask questions.

We had poll watchers from the major political parties with us throughout the day and visits from traditional media outlets and UMaine’s student newspaper. We also had candidates and a candidate’s brother in the parking lot thanking voters and representatives of political candidates or parties on hand to monitor the tabulations.

Personal experiences are what leave lasting impressions.

When I wasn’t greeting voters, I had the chance to move in and out of a two-hour conversation between the Republican and Democratic poll watchers. Their friendly discussion covered everything except partisan politics and the ballots.

Near the entrance, dozens of new or uncertain voters cautiously approached me to share their circumstances and to ask if they could vote with us. I could sense their relief when they learned we had experts to help them verify they had established voting residency in Orono.

A few minutes later, I watched the same voters confidently snap selfies with their “I voted” stickers as they headed for the exits.

My favorite part of Election Day was seeing parents share their voting experience with children of all different ages. We had one mom who staked out the entrance for a half-an-hour waiting to surprise her daughter and celebrate her first Election Day as a voter.  

Our founders believed that fair and open elections matter more than any electoral outcome. I agree and am pleased so many of today’s parents are helping to teach the next generation of voters that our elections belong to us.

See you next year at the polls!