Get-out-the-vote effort in high gear

Posted Nov. 01, 2009, at 9:03 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Hordes of volunteers armed with lawn signs and cell phones made a final push for votes over the weekend as Mainers prepared to cast ballots on issues ranging from gay marriage to government spending.

Tuesday’s vote on whether to repeal Maine’s same-sex marriage law is attracting the most attention, both inside and outside of the state. But ballot questions on the latest Taxpayer Bill of Rights proposal, school consolidation, excise taxes and medical marijuana are expected to draw larger crowds than typically seen in off-year elections.

With several recent polls showing Question 1 too close to call, the get-out-the-vote effort was in high gear Saturday and Sunday for both sides of the gay marriage issue. Volunteers and campaign staffers called voter lists, knocked on doors and distributed campaign signs to whomever would take them.

“Not to be overly optimistic because one never knows, but … I feel good about the momentum with the number of people calling, wanting to volunteer and wanting to help,” said Bob Emrich, a pastor from Plymouth and leader of the Yes on 1 campaign to overturn Maine’s same-sex marriage law. “Our biggest challenge is just trying to keep up with them. So that is encouraging.”

Josh Delano from Orrington was busy distributing new or replacement signs in the Bangor and Brewer areas on Sunday. Delano estimated he had placed or given out more than 1,200 signs in recent weeks and that demand was outstripping supply.

“I saved up about 200 for just before the election and those went right away,” he said Sunday night.

Energy levels were equally high among those who see marriage as a constitutional right that should be available to all Mainers, gay or straight.

“It’s nothing for 40 to 50 people to show up for a phone bank,” said Mary Rush, one of the volunteers who has helped coordinate the get-out-the-vote efforts in the Bangor area.

The Brewer phone bank was one of seven that the No on 1 campaign was operating in southern and central Maine all day on Sunday. The borrowed office in a shopping mall near Brewer’s main commercial strip was still hopping at around 6:30 p.m. Sunday with volunteers coming and going.

About a mile away, Rush joined about 50 other people who prayed, sang hymns and gave personal testimonials during an interfaith candlelight vigil in support of same-sex marriage at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church in Brewer. Six similar events were held Sunday evening in locations from Kennebunk to Machias.

“It is my hope that justice will prevail and that the people will vote No on 1, but regardless of the outcome, I hope that we will do it graciously,” said one speaker during the testimonial period.

With relatively few high-profile races around the country this Tuesday, Maine’s vote on same-sex marriage is likely to attract national attention.

Five other states, including four in New England, have legalized same-sex marriage through the courts or legislation. If Question 1 is defeated and the now-suspended law upheld by voters, Maine would be the first state in the nation where gay and lesbian couples won the right to wed through a statewide vote.

Of course, same-sex marriage is one of seven questions on the ballot.

On Monday, backers of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR II, will hold rallies in Bangor and Portland to encourage their supporters to vote in support of Question 4 on Election Day. TABOR II would require voter approval for any increases in government spending above the rate of inflation plus population growth.

Maine voters rejected a similar TABOR initiative in 2006. On Sunday, Crystal Canney with Citizens United for Maine’s Future — the group leading the fight against TABOR — said their phone banks in Bangor and Portland were full of volunteers reminding people to vote and trying to sway those still on the fence.

One recent poll showed the anti-TABOR campaign with a slight edge, but Canney added: “We don’t take anything for granted.”

The other questions on the ballot are as follows:

Question 2 would reduce the excise tax on vehicles less than 6 years old by 55 percent while exempting from the sales tax new hybrid and highly fuel-efficient cars.

Question 3 would asks voters whether they want to repeal the controversial school consolidation law passed in 2007.

Question 5 would expand the list of ailments for which patients can receive medical marijuana and would establish a regulated dispensing system.

Question 6 proposes $71.3 million in bonds for transportation projects and the LifeFlight Foundation.

Question 7 would give clerks more time to certify petition signatures.