There are some things government — i.e. taxpayers — should pay for. Accessible and available polling places is one.

In this regard, city councilors in Auburn did right by rejecting a proposal to consolidate voting at the Auburn Mall in lieu of locations in the city’s five wards. While this would have saved money — about $8,000 annually — its actual cost to the city was likely greater.

There were community and neighborhood concerns, like some speakers mentioned during Monday’s city council meeting. And there were democratic (little-d) fears about preserving access to polling places for Auburn residents without the means, or ability, to make it to the mall.

While these are important, it seems the core issue was whether it was worth saving of $8,000 — in Auburn’s $66.05 million budget — to arguably make voting more difficult, at least for certain residents. The answer, the council decided, was no.

Yet this shouldn’t silence the issue for good, though. The process of voting does need improvement.  This effort in Auburn and its predecessor in Lewiston —
which tried to consolidate polling places last year, but failed — are indicative of dissatisfaction with how voting is done. The appeal of early voting and absentee balloting in recent years
has also been a referendum of sorts about the voting process.

It’s easy to make voting cheaper — consolidation of polling places,
paying fewer staff members, etc. Where cities and towns have struggled
has been making voting better.

The mall — although inconvenient as the lone location — makes sense as a polling place, especially in elections with significant turnout. Though it is not central, it is easily reachable by private and public transportation and can accommodate a crowd. If electoral resources could be re-allocated to make the mall, say, an all-wards poll during high-turnout elections, it could create convenience for some voters without disenfranchising any one of them.

This is just an idea, though. The principle for officials in Auburn — and anywhere else — to consider is finding savings by limiting access to voting, in any form, carries a high public cost. The emphasis instead should be making voting easier, to encourage citizen participation.

Given all this, it seems clear: improvements can be made. But instead of seeking the cheapest solution – citing the evergreen call for lower tax burden as reasoning – city officials and citizens on both riverbanks would be better served collaborating toward creating the best voting system for the money.

Few likely think the money spent on voting is wasted. Yet even fewer should think spending less for voting will make the process any better.

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