Voters in Lewiston wait in lines Tuesday in the gym at the former Longley School, the city’s lone polling location. Steve Collins/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — The city issued an apology Wednesday following a storm of criticism from residents who complained of long lines and parking chaos during presidential primary voting at the former Longley Elementary School on Tuesday.

Officials said the issue stemmed from competing events along Birch Street, as high school hockey playoff games were held at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee, just across the street from Longley, which was the city’s lone polling location.

“When the decision was made to hold the election at Longley, we did not know that this was also the date for the state hockey tournament semifinals at the Colisee,” City Administrator Ed Barrett said. “Once we became aware of the conflict last week, it was impossible to legally change the voting location.”

Barrett said the city attempted to mitigate the issue by restricting parking in the Longley lots to voters only, and placing more “parking for voters only” signs along Birch Street. The city also placed police personnel on scene for traffic and parking control.

“The congestion was worsened when the first (hockey) game of the evening ran to three overtimes, adding even more traffic to the area, with fans arriving for the second game before those at the first had left,” Barrett said. “We will take care in the future to limit situations where there are conflicts between voting and events at the Colisee. Again, we apologize to anyone who faced difficulties or inconvenience when coming to vote last evening.”

City Clerk Kathy Montejo agreed Wednesday that the parking congestion was caused by a “perfect storm,” even as police attempted to enforce parking in the immediate area.

Tuesday’s election was the first time in two decades that Mainers used a primary system for the presidential race, meaning Lewiston officials may not have known what to expect. Following issues with long lines during the 2016 caucuses, Maine lawmakers voted last year to use statewide presidential primary elections like the majority of states.

During most Lewiston elections, only three of seven wards vote at Longley, while the remaining wards vote at the Lewiston Armory, Montello School and the Lewiston Regional Technical Center.

A post on the “Lewiston Rocks” community Facebook page regarding the election received immense feedback by Wednesday, with many questioning why the city chose to consolidate into a single polling location.

Montejo took responsibility Wednesday for the decision to use just one location, stating that she based her decision on turnout projections of 15% by the Secretary of State. She said the city has held its mayoral runoff elections in 2015 and 2017 at Longley only, and had been able to accommodate similar turnouts to what occurred Tuesday.

The 2017 runoff produced almost the exact turnout number of Tuesday’s primary — roughly 7,100, which is a 26% turnout.

Montejo said Longley is chosen for a single location because three wards, which amounts to about 50% of voters, already vote there.

She said an “explosion” of interest in Question 1 also could have driven a higher turnout Tuesday. In the week leading up to the election, she said, there was a huge increase in absentee ballot requests.

Linda Scott, a former School Committee chairwoman and Planning Board member, said she and her son arrived at Longley around 2:30 p.m. Tuesday and were met with crowds.

“I will say it was very hectic with the traffic and parking,” she said. “But I also think the election workers and city clerks did a great job with such a large voter turnout. Everyone was friendly and kept the lines moving smoothly.”

Montejo said the city did not find out until Friday that the state hockey playoffs would be held at the Colisee. At that time, she said, officials began planning to mitigate potential issues.

Two police officers were assigned to Longley between 3:30 and 8 p.m., she said. At 4:30 p.m., the parking lot gates close to the Colisee, which begins charging for parking.

She said some residents still believed the city owned the Colisee, assuming it could have changed the playoff scheduling. While that isn’t the case, Montejo said Colisee owners allowed city election workers to park there in order to save parking spaces in the Longley lot.


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