AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine voters will head to the polls today in an off-year election with no major political offices on the ballot but plenty of hot-button issues to help draw people into the voting booth.
During a typical off-year election, between 15 percent and 25 percent of Maine voters cast ballots, compared to 70 percent or higher during presidential elections.
Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap forecasts that turnout will be closer to 35 percent this election given the heightened interest in Question 1, which will decide whether same-sex marriage is legal in the state.
“I would love to see it be 50 to 60 percent, but I’m not sure we are going to make that,” Dunlap said Monday.
In addition to Question 1, Mainers will cast votes on whether to repeal or uphold the 2007 school consolidation mandate that has proved so controversial in areas of rural Maine.
Two ballot questions deal directly or indirectly with taxes. One proposes to reduce excise taxes paid on newer vehicles — taxes that help pay for municipal services — while a revived Taxpayer Bill of Rights proposal seeks to restrict government spending.
A proposed expansion of Maine’s medical marijuana law, a $71.3 million bond measure and a constitutional amendment involving town clerks round out the seven-question ballot.
More than 100,000 people had already cast their votes as of Monday afternoon either through the absentee ballot process or an early-voting pilot project launched in nine communities.
In Bangor, City Clerk Patti Dubois was anticipating about 50 percent turnout based on the traffic flow so far. Dubois said about 2,300 people had requested absentee ballots, which most already returned by Monday, while 2,700 people had participated in the early voting program.
“People seem to really like it, and they seem to appreciate it,” Dubois said of the early voting experiment. “It’s quick and convenient for the voters, but it’s a lot of work either way” for city staff.
The city of Augusta had seen about 1,400 early voters as of Monday evening, according the city clerk’s office. Portland, which was not participating in the early voting program but did allow in-person absentee voting on Saturday, had received roughly 7,600 completed ballots.
The battle over same-sex marriage has dominated election discussion, attracting attention and millions of dollars from national advocacy groups on both sides as well as putting Maine in the national media spotlight during an otherwise slow election year.
Supporters of Question 1 are hoping Maine will follow the lead of the 30 other states where voters have rejected same-sex marriage and restricted marriage to one man and one woman.
But gay marriage advocates have waged a high-profile and polished “No on 1” campaign appealing to Mainers’ “live and let live” philosophy. If Question 1 is defeated, Maine would become the first state in the nation where gay and lesbian partners won the right to wed from voters directly, rather than through the courts or lawmakers.
Several recent polls, including one released Monday, offer contradictory snapshots on voter sentiment toward Question 1.
The most recent survey, by North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling, showed the anti-gay marriage camp opening up a 4-point lead just a few weeks after the same polling group showed the race as dead even.
PPP’s poll of more than 1,100 likely voters showed 51 percent voting yes, 47 percent voting no and just 2 percent undecided. The survey had a margin of error of 2.9 percent.
Poll results released last week by Research 2000, meanwhile, gave gay marriage supporters a slight lead — 48 percent opposed to Question 1 versus 47 percent in favor. But a poll by Portland-based Pan Atlantic SMS Group showed same-sex supporters with a commanding, 11-percentage point lead over opponents.
Several polls have suggested that support for the Taxpayer Bill of Rights has fallen in recent weeks. Similar to a proposal that failed at the polls in 2006, TABOR II would require voter approval for any increases in government spending beyond the rate of inflation or population growth.
In the PPP poll, 57 percent of respondents said they planned to vote against TABOR II with 39 percent in support. The Pan Atlantic poll also showed TABOR trailing with 39.8 percent supportive but 46.3 percent opposed.
A poll by Maine-based Critical Insights, meanwhile, had TABOR leading with 47 percent versus 45 percent opposed and 8 percent undecided.