Suggestions have included changing the state Constitution to allow early voting (a technical change from the perspective of those of us who vote absentee in advance, but a major improvement in the burden placed on municipal clerks handling those ballots cast before Election Day); restoring in-person absentee balloting on the Friday, Saturday, and Monday just before Election Day (it was removed in 2011 in hopes of easing clerks' workload but ended up inconveniencing voters instead); and clarifying ancillary rules relating to students who vote in Maine (the Constitution's position is clear, but there are other state laws not directly related to voting that may — or may not — come into play; it's those that might need tidying up).
Having heard all the testimony, and taken written comments as well, the committee will report its findings, and any suggested legislation, to the legislature by the end of January; we can look for the Democrat-controlled State House to frown on any new restrictions, and to cheer for any ideas to make voting easier, clearer, and more accessible to all Mainers.
CHEAP HOTEL ROOMS
We've long since lost count of how many hotels there are in Portland, how many rooms each has, and how often they're full or vacant. Until recently, though, we thought we had a handle on how many new hotels were in the works. But when we last looked, the list had grown by one more — and we're sure it'll have added another by the time this hits the streets. This sort of competition has existing hoteliers worried that oversupply will mean lower occupancy rates, cheaper room prices, and reduced profits. That's almost a given when many of the new hotels open in 2014. It's not outlandish to think that, in hopes of fending off this impending competition, Portland lodgings will drop their rates to ridiculous, Priceline-like levels, preferring to lose money and discourage new hoteliers, rather than make insane profit margins and attract gold-diggers galore. If this plan comes to fruition, by December, rooms will be so cheap that Portland's homeless situation will be entirely solved — and we'll still have rooms for all the tourists flocking here.
The city of Portland is seeking feedback on its website (portlandmaine.gov) and plans to issue a Request for Proposals to revamp it in the beginning of 2013. Thank goodness. The current version, which receives an average of 2000 to 5000 pageviews per day, is a clunky eyesore; its usability — one of the most important factors to any website, especially a municipal one — is nil. It takes forever to find the information you need, and there's no mobile functionality to speak of. That's why the city manager and council set aside $40,000 in the budget to give the site a facelift. By gathering survey data (there's a link on the city's homepage) and studying award-winning municipal websites (the Center for Digital Government and the online publication Government Technology gave first-place merits this year to the state of Alabama; Florida's Orange County; and Louisville, Kentucky), city officials hope to improve the online portal to Portland.