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Voters are heading to polling places in the Maine city where 18 were killed

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 polling places Tuesday.

The mood was somber as several shooting survivors remained hospitalized and funerals were being held this week for those who died in the attack.

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.”

Lewiston voters were choosing a mayor and filling seven city council and eight school board seats. Also on the ballot were several statewide initiatives including proposals to disband the state’s investor-owned utilities in favor of a nonprofit utility and to 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, City Clerk Kathy Montejo said.

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

“Voters should know that clerks and state elections officials have been thinking about this for years. It’s not a new issue or consideration for us,” said aid Secretary of State Shenna Bellows.

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.

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 others, and trying to get back to some semblance of normalcy,” he said.

David Sharp, The Associated Press