Voters in Lewiston are overcoming fear and sadness to do their civic duty after mass shooting


LEWISTON, Maine (AP) — Less than two weeks after 18 people were killed by a gunman in their small New England city, residents headed gingerly to cast ballots Tuesday for a slate of municipal races in an election that took on a more subdued and somber tone after the tragedy.

Citing civic duty and a quest to return the community to normal life, Lewiston residents turned out to vote in several high-profile referendums and local races.

“This is a necessity. We have to do this. So we can’t neglect it even though we’ve been through a terrible tragedy,” said James Scribner, 79, a retired teacher and Marine veteran, who was joined by his wife at local school that was transformed into a polling place.

The shootings on Oct. 25 at a bar and a bowling alley in Lewiston forced tens of thousands of residents to shelter in place for several days. Grocery stores, gas stations and restaurants were closed. The gunman was later found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a nearby town.

Local candidates paused their campaigns for a week after the shootings, and campaigning was different when it resumed, said Jon Connor, a candidate for mayor.

“When we restarted campaigning, I was knocking on doors to see how people are doing,” said Connor, who was greeting voters Tuesday. “We’re meeting people where they are. We want to be respectful.”

Whoever wins the mayoral race will have a much different job than they signed up for, including guiding the city through the aftermath of the tragedy.

Lewiston voters are choosing city council and school board seats, as well as deciding on several state ballot initiatives. One would disband the state’s investor-owned utilities for a nonprofit, customer-owned one. Another would close a loophole that allows foreign spending on referendums.

On Tuesday, police were on hand to put voters and 140 election workers at ease amid threats. Some election workers stayed home either out of safety concerns or to focus on mourning, after replacements were found for them, City Clerk Kathy Montejo said.

Election officials in Lewiston have received training in cybersecurity threats and de-escalation techniques. It also got a security assessment of polling places and the clerk’s office.

At polling places, election wardens wore light blue shirts emblazoned with “Lewiston Strong” and a blue heart was at each of the tables where voters checked in. Outside, flags flew at half-staff.

Turnout appeared slow but steady. “It seems a little quieter, a little more subdued, a little more somber,” Montejo said Tuesday.

“We saw a lot of hugs, a few tears, and the community coming together to participate in our democracy,” Secretary of State Shenna Bellows said Tuesday afternoon.

Some voters overcame feelings of vulnerability to get to the polls.

“It still stays in the back of my mind. But I also can’t let one person make me stay in my house all by myself,” voter Lori Hallett said. “I’m still sad. But I had to do my civic duty.”

Scribner was circumspect about the shootings.

“It just goes to show that these terrible events can happen, and they can happen anywhere at any time. The strength of the community is coming together, helping each other, and trying to get back to some semblance of normalcy,” he said.

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