The fallout was swift and decisive Monday over a city election official’s decision to deny a Bangor police officer access to a voting booth unless he turned over his weapon.

Bangor City Clerk Patti Dubois, who is in charge of staffing the city’s lone polling place, confirmed Monday that longtime election warden Wayne Mallar has been asked to stay home for the remainder of this election cycle.

Dubois also said she planned to contact the officer, James Dearing, later Monday to apologize and ensure that he has another opportunity to vote.

Dearing first tried to cast his vote late last Friday. The 18-year veteran police officer was patrolling near the Bangor Civic Center and stopped in to fill out an in-person absentee ballot. He walked into the polling place in full uniform with his firearm holstered and stood in a short line with other voters.

Mallar, the election warden in charge that day, approached Dearing and requested that he turn over the weapon to another officer stationed at the polling place or he wouldn’t be allowed to vote.

Dearing refused and explained later that he was trained never to turn over his firearm.

But Mallar stood his ground.

Rather than make a scene, the officer left the polling place quietly, although he later admitted the entire incident was embarrassing.

Bangor Police Chief Ron Gastia said Monday that his officer did the right thing, and he defended Dearing’s decision to vote while on duty.

“Frankly, he took the high road and left. He did what was appropriate … what I would have expected any police officer to do,” the chief said. “In speaking with the clerk’s office this morning, her position is that officers are certainly permitted at the polls, in uniform or out of uniform, armed or unarmed.”

After he got home Friday, Dearing created a post on his Facebook page about what had happened to him. The responses came quickly and were strongly in his favor.

Dearing decided to draft a letter to Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap.

Dunlap said Monday that state law allows a warden broad latitude of authority over polling places. However, no state or federal law exists that prohibits police officers — or anyone else, for that matter — from bringing guns to a polling place.

Source: Eric Russell for Bangor Daily News.

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