Voter’s death temporarily closes polls in Blue Hill

BLUE HILL — Voting in Blue Hill was interrupted Tuesday after a resident passed away while voting, said Selectman Vaughn Leach.

The clerks called for help and temporarily closed the polls for about an hour while waiting for first responders and then a representative of the state medical examiner’s office to arrive.

The death occurred around 9:45 a.m., said Leach.

Maine State Police Spokesman Steve McCausland said the deceased was a 78-year-old man. Authorities had not released his identity before press time.

Polls in Blue Hill are traditionally located in the upstairs auditorium of the town office but clerks temporarily moved voting operations to the selectmen’s office. Later, the polling was relocated back to the auditorium.

Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said that the clerks did what they had to do.

“They really had to have the patient isolated to try and revive him,” Dunlap said.

It’s a balancing act for officials when an emergency occurs at a polling place.

“You want to be respectful of the individual and help them get what they need,” Dunlap said. Yet, “polls close at election day at 8 o’clock and we don’t get a do-over.”

Tuesday’s death was the first of Dunlap’s tenure on an election day but there have been many incidents over the years.

“We’ve had a few occasions where something would go wrong,” Dunlap said. “We had a fire alarm pulled at one of the Bangor polling stations years ago when it was held at the Bangor High School. I have to give the ballot clerks a lot of credit.”

The Bangor clerks wouldn’t leave, even for a fire alarm. “Not until flames are licking our feet are we leaving,” Dunlap recalled the clerks telling him.

The town of Bowdoinham lost power on one election day.

“They picked everything up and went out to the parking lot and kept voting,” he said.

“At least locally, clerks, election officials, wardens, they’re pretty resourceful,” Dunlap said.

Dunlap said for broader crises “those are things we do kind of sketch out.”

“Any situation like this is going to be hard to manage because no two polling stations are alike just as no two towns are like,” the secretary of state said. “It turns into an Apollo 13 situation. You work with what you’ve got. Maintain your chain of custody, don’t leave anything unattended.”

Dunlap spoke via cell phone Tuesday as he traveled to various polling places throughout Maine, including Arundel, Old Town, Richmond, Portland and Lewiston.

“It’s been a heavier than expected turnout everywhere we’ve been,” said Dunlap. “That’s good. We had predicted a light turnout. Republicans didn’t have a contested primary.

“People have waited until today to make up their mind,” Dunlap said. “That’s what we’re seeing today. It’s a good problem to have.”

Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.

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