CONWAY — In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Conway's town and school elections were postponed three times, and more than 1,000 absentee ballots were requested.
What a difference a year makes.
As local election officials look forward to next Tuesday's voting at Kennett High School only 150 absentee ballots have been requested through Conway Town Clerk Louise Inkell’s office. That's roughly 1/10th the requests made last May, which totaled 1,045.
This is despite the recent uptick in positive cases of the coronavirus — 42 in Conway alone last week.
Inkell has some theories as to why more people are willing to vote in person this spring.
“I think (requests for ballots) are down for a couple of reasons,” she told the Sun on Tuesday. “We have three vaccines now, and more people are getting vaccinated every day. I think last spring, it was just so unknown how we should handle a pandemic.”
She added: “I also think the November (presidential) election, which was also held at the high school with a lot of more people — they felt comfortable with the setup. People were very comfortable with social distancing.”
Conway's town/school voting took place last May with drive-through voting at the town garage in Center Conway.
For the Nov. 3 presidential election, nearly 6,000 people cast ballots at Kennett High. Conway had a record 71 percent participation with 5,893 ballots cast — 3,086 in person and 2,807 by absentee ballot.
Just prior to doors opening, the line stretched out the Peter Ames Gymnasium, took a left turn, running the length of the music room and cafeteria, turned right at the school gazebo, ran the length of the bus parking lot, turned left and ran along the Gary Millen Stadium to the Art Walker Concession Stand.
“We won’t see anything like the turnout for the November election on Tuesday,” said Inkell. “I think our lowest turnout was 1,030 people (in 2019 with snow flurries all day at the polls at the former Conway Community Building in Center Conway. Last year, between in-person and absentee ballots, we had almost 1,500 people vote.”
For last May's town voting, 1,457 ballots were cast at the town garage, including a record 921 people voting absentee.
Inkell ordered 2,700 ballots for Tuesday.
Conway election officials always precount to confirm the ballot inventory, and also to locate any torn or spoiled ballots. Last Friday, Town Moderator Deborah Fauver, Kris Cluff, Jolene Kowerdovich, Marvin Swartz, Pat Fleck, Bruce Libby and Rhoda Quint took inventory.
“We have to count the ballots and make sure everything is accurate,” said Inkell, who is running for a second two-year term as town clerk/tax collector.
She added that since she is on the ballot she did not take part in the processing.
“They are basically there to look at every page to make sure there are no streaks or marks on them and to make sure that everything is collated properly. They have to physically look at every page.”
On Wednesday, officials tested the ballot machines, making sure the counters are accurate.
Fauver, who will oversee her final election before stepping down after four years at the helm, is looking for a smooth day.
"Voters will follow the same process used at the November presidential election,” she shared Monday.
“Town and school reports are available at Hannaford, Shaw's, The Conway Daily Sun, the Conway and North Conway libraries, and some area post offices," Fauver said. "School reports are also available at Conway schools.”
The busiest time on voting day “is always 8-9 a.m.," Fauver said. "If at all possible, come later in the day.”
Sample ballots and additional information are available on the town website (conwaynh.org) and on the SAU 9 website (sau9.org).
Fauver offered tip for last-minute voters: “Use the voter worksheet on the back page of the town report to be more efficient with your time in the voting booth."
The town ballot includes ballots for town officers, zoning amendments, an operating budget of more than $12 million and 32 additional articles. The school ballot includes voting for school officers, an operating budget of more than $38 million and eight additional articles.
Anyone seeking to vote for the first time can do so by showing proof of residence. That can be photo ID with their address on it, a lease agreement or car's registration.
On the ballot, the only contested races are for the planning board; however, anyone looking to serve the town might consider one of two empty three-year seats on the municipal budget committee, said Inkell.
“Right now, we have two people for four seats,” she said. “Put the word out if you know anyone who might be interested and may want to run a write-in campaign.”
Those empty seats will be offered to the people who receive the most write-in votes.
Conway town/school voting runs from 8 a.m.-7 p.m. on April 13 in the gymnasium of Kennett High School at 409 Eagle's Way in North Conway.