LEWISTON – It isn’t likely that Mainers will be heading to the polls for anything until mid-July.

It appears that everything from school budget votes to a U.S. Senate primary will be delayed until at least July 14 to provide more time for the coronavirus pandemic to pose less of a threat to voters and poll workers.

In Lewiston, for example, the school budget vote that typically occurs in May is almost certainly going to be postponed.

City Clerk Kathy Montejo said Wednesday that city and school officials are looking into the possibility of holding the school budget vote on the same day as the state primary, June 9.

The state is likely to push back the primary date by five weeks in order to hold it July 14. Gov. Janet Mills said this week the shift is likely because of concerns that in-person voting might spread COVID-19 if the primary is held as scheduled June 9.

Though no decision has been made, candidates offered positive reactions to the prospect of a later primary, though at least one wondered if mid-July is too optimistic under the circumstances.

Montejo said what to do about the school budget vote is clear.

“It just is not wise for the city to hold an election in May if the state is postponing a June one due to public health safety concerns,” she said.

How the delay in approving a new school budget will impact education spending is uncertain. State law allows a district to head into a new academic year using the same budget it has had if a new one isn’t approved.

Betsy Sweet, one of three Democrats vying in a U.S. Senate primary this year, said she thinks Mills’ suggestion of a July 14 vote is “a prudent move” and a “good one for the health of Mainers.”

State House Speaker Sara Gideon, a Democrat who is also running for Senate, said, “The health and safety of Mainers is our top priority, and we want every Maine voter to be able to exercise their right to vote safely. I’m confident that we can both protect our democracy and protect the people of Maine.”

“That’s why it’s so important that we expand voting by mail, and that the Senate prioritize aid to states to expand absentee voting in their next aid package,” Gideon said.

Sweet said the travesty of Tuesday’s primary in Wisconsin, where many polls were closed for lack of workers and voter turnout diminished, shows that Maine can’t pursue elections as usual.

Sweet said, too, that Mills and Secretary of State Matt Dunlap should “use this extra time to expand opportunities for people to vote absentee, make sure polling places are safe and secure, and use as much voting by mail as possible.”

“Voting is the most sacred part of America’s democracy, and we should ensure that all voters feel safe and are able to vote on Election Day,” said Dale Crafts, one of a trio of Republicans seeking to become their party’s nominee in the 2nd Congressional District race.

“If moving the primary election protects that freedom and ensures we focus on the Maine people overcoming COVID-19, I fully support that,” Crafts said.

Bre Kidman, another Democrat in the Senate primary, said July may be too soon.

“We are taking challenges as they come because it’s hard to be sure when we’ll be able to gather in public for things like voting again, but I think July is — unfortunately, realistically — sooner than most people will be ready to go to crowded public spaces,” Kidman said.

The Saco lawyer said officials should “use the extension to work on allowing for things like online voter registration and preparing to have an election primarily by mail.”

“I think it’s also important that we work to educate people about the new date,” Kidman said. “It was hard enough to explain the idea of there being another primary after the presidential primary” in early March, “but some of us have been doing a lot of work to get that June 9 date out there and now have to start that outreach over.”

“I’d like to see the state send out notification of the new date and information on registration and getting ballots by mail to every household. Hopefully the extension provides enough time and resources to accomplish that,” Kidman said.

Mills said Tuesday that the state would try to reduce person-to-person contact by promoting absentee voting and perhaps using federal funds to put up protective barriers, such as the screens used in some retail stores, to protect voters and election officials in some polling places.

“We are guessing to some extent,” said Mills, a Democrat, of the July 14 date. “It seemed to me we would give people enough time to plan ahead. We want to preserve every Maine voter’s right to express themselves at the ballot box to cast their vote and preserve our democracy.”

Dunlap told the Portland Press Herald his office is prepared for the possibility that the primary might be absentee-ballot only if municipalities can’t staff polling places.

“Our principal goal here is to make sure there is no doubt about the integrity or outcomes of our elections,” Dunlap said.

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