Election volunteer Tori Kusukawa looks for arriving voters at the Ward 1 polling place at the Lewiston Armory on Tuesday. Registered voters could bypass the line of people waiting to register to vote. Jeffrey Reynolds II, second from left, is halfway through the line of those wanting to register to vote. The line continues on the other side of the wall. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — Voters were prepared to hit the polls early on Election Day.

Constance Provencher enters her ballot into the ballot machine at the Ward 1 polling place at the Lewiston Armory on Tuesday. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

According to Lewiston City Clerk Kathy Montejo, the first voter at the Lewiston Armory got in line at 6 a.m., appearing like he was waiting in line on Black Friday — a folding chair, blanket, coffee mug and ear pods in tow.

But after the early morning lines cleared, election officials in Lewiston and Auburn, and elsewhere in Androscoggin County, said the remainder of the day was smooth sailing.

“Every polling place definitely had lines at 7 a.m.,” Montejo said, adding that the lines all “cleared quickly.”

She believed that was partly due to the local ballot this year, with no city government races and no state referendum questions or bond issues. Most voters taking advantage of early voting at City Hall took about one to two minutes to cast their ballots, she said, meaning that in most cases lines of people were able to mostly remain indoors.

Leading up to Election Day, clerks were warning voters not to get discouraged by lines that appeared longer than normal due to indoor capacity limits and social distancing measures because of the pandemic.

Other than a surge of voters when polls opened, Lewiston never really saw another spike, Montejo said.

“We’ve been so pleased by the pace of voters coming in,” she said. “We haven’t had the large volumes requiring long waits.”

Election officials, however, were surprised by the number of voter registrations, Montejo said, especially in Wards 3 and 5. Some longer lines for registrations (Maine allows same-day voter registration) caused Montejo to reallocate some City Hall staff to the former Longley school to assist.

Montejo said a majority of the registrations were address changes for residents who have moved within the city, especially in the downtown areas that make up Wards 3 and 5.

“That was a little bit of a surprise to us, but it’s a good thing,” she said.

Heading into the afternoon, Montejo said staff realized they couldn’t rely on the typical Election Day turnout spikes at lunchtime, after school and after work. With so many variables related to the pandemic — including absentee voting and work and school schedules in flux — “all bets are off,” she said.

Election official Tracey Miller looks out from behind her protective partition to speak to a voter at the Ward 1 polling place at the Lewiston Armory on Tuesday. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Officials believe the pandemic has contributed to nearly 12,000 absentee votes in Lewiston and more than 8,000 in Auburn.

Joseph Parker, 2, waits in line with his father’s girlfriend, Vanessa Mitchell, at the Ward 1 polling place at the Lewiston Armory on Tuesday. The line was for those registering to vote, not to cast their ballots. Parker’s father is Joseph Parker. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

On the community Facebook page Lewiston Rocks, members reported no lines at the Armory, and Montello and Longley schools by midmorning.

Montejo said she believed more voters would opt to vote as early as possible rather than deal with the colder temperatures and wind when the sun goes down. But, she said, the city installed flood lights outside each location.

She said that during the July midterms, staff “waited and waited” for a dinnertime rush but never saw one, and assumed it was related to the number of people working from home.

“The pace seems to be really manageable for both the voters and the workers,” she said. “We’re hearing from wardens that all the voters are being appreciative, patient and understanding.”

The city’s polling locations never really saw the after-work surge.

The outlook in Auburn appeared similar by noon Tuesday.

Lorena Desjardins, left, and her sister Adrienne Desrochers sit in line while they wait for Desjardins to change her address at the Ward 1 polling place at the Lewiston Armory on Tuesday. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

City Clerk Sue Clements-Dallaire said the “morning was crazy, with a “mad rush” at 7 a.m. But by mid-morning, it was “slow, steady and manageable.”

One resident reported only a 10-minute wait with limited lines at the Auburn Senior Community Center, a new polling location this year that was serving Wards 1 and 2. Another reported similar conditions at the Boys and Girls Club in Ward 5.

The city did experience another uptick in turnout between 4 and 6 p.m., Clements-Dallaire said. After the 6 p.m. numbers came in, the city had surpassed its turnout for the 2016 election.

The 6 p.m. counts showed 2,251 votes cast in Wards 1 and 2; 707 in Ward 3; 596 in Ward 4; and 811 in Ward 5.

An election worker monitors voting booths that may need to be sanitized at the Ward I polling place at the Lewiston Armory on Tuesday. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

During the Auburn City Council meeting Monday, City Manager Phil Crowell said city officials and clerk’s office staff had been working to make sure they were “ready and prepared” for Election Day. Following the meeting, staff from Public Works began setting up the Council Chamber for voting. It hosted Wards 3 and 4.

Mayor Jason Levesque urged the public to vote and “not be afraid of lines at the polls.”

He said with about 8,100 ballots already cast, it equals just over half of registered voters in Auburn. Generally, the city sees about a 72% turnout during presidential elections, he said, arguing Election Day will be smooth.

Crowell said in case there are lines, the city established shelters outside of polling locations. The city also rolled out a shuttle service for residents between all three polling locations.

“Our volunteers have been incredible,” Crowell said. “Our staff and team are well prepared to remove all possible barriers to voting.”

At Lisbon High School, at least 50 voters were lined up when the polls opened at 7 a.m., officials said.

Turnout remained “very busy” throughout the morning, said Martha Poliquin, a Lisbon Democrat running for state Senate District 22.

Dale Crafts, the GOP’s candidate for the 2nd Congressional District, said he was with state Sen. Jeff Timberlake of Turner at the polls Tuesday morning, greeting voters and handing out treats from Timberlake’s orchards to poll workers.

Everywhere they went, Crafts said, they saw lots of voters in line despite heavy early voting throughout the state.

In Lewiston, Montejo said about 5 p.m. that if the current conditions at the polls held, the city was likely to get timely results. The only delay, she said, would be if there were still lines at 8 p.m.

“At this point, we don’t have any lines at all,” she said.

Staff Writer Steve Collins also contributed to this story.

Charles Stilkey of Lewiston voted for the first time Tuesday. “It’s time to do something,” the 56-year-old said. The “civil unrest” inspired him to vote. “The protests really bothered me,” Stilkey said of the violence that followed some Black Lives Matter gatherings across the country. “I have never voted in my life, but after seeing what is going on in this country, I had to come out here and do this.” Stilkey said he enjoyed voting, but was unhappy that poll workers were not handing out “I Voted” stickers because of COVID-19 precautions. “I wanted that sticker,” he said. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Wards 1 and 2 election warden Buck Buchanan disinfects voting booths between voters at the Senior Community Center in Auburn on Tuesday. Buchanan said voter turnout was very heavy first thing Tuesday morning. “It was the most nuts I have ever seen,” he said. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Kyle Laroche fills out his ballot at the Senior Community Center in Auburn on Tuesday. Laroche, 20, said Tuesday was his first time voting. “Encouragement from family and friends about how important this election is” prompted him to vote, he said. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

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