Campaigns prepare for results in heavy off-year turnout

Voter turnout was steady in Old Town on Tuesday morning. Steve Martell leaves the booth after voting in Old Town's Ward 2. Buy Photo
Voter turnout was steady in Old Town on Tuesday morning. Steve Martell leaves the booth after voting in Old Town's Ward 2. Buy Photo
Posted Nov. 03, 2009, at 7:26 p.m.
Bangor voters wait in line to vote at the Bangor Auditorium on Tuesday. Election officials in Bangor were expecting to exceed 50 percent voter turnout despite it being an off-year election. Buy Photo
Bangor voters wait in line to vote at the Bangor Auditorium on Tuesday. Election officials in Bangor were expecting to exceed 50 percent voter turnout despite it being an off-year election. Buy Photo

PORTLAND, Maine – After months of campaigning and an intense get-out-the-vote effort, the organizations on both sides of Question 1 were preparing Tuesday night to find out where Maine voters really stand on the issue of same-sex marriage.

Volunteers for Stand for Marriage Maine, the group behind the effort to repeal the state’s gay marriage law, and No on 1/Protect Maine Equality were still busy Tuesday evening encouraging people to cast their votes before the polls close at 8 p.m.

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, after witnessing activity at several polling stations and hearing from clerks around the state, said Tuesday that his original prediction of 35 percent turnout was likely too low. Dunlap said he now believes 50 percent of voters could cast ballots in the off-year election dominated by the gay marriage issue.

“What I have seen around the state has been steady to very busy turnout all day,” Dunlap said.

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Several recent polls have suggested that Mainers are almost evenly divided over Question 1, which asks whether voters want to repeal the same-sex marriage bill passed by the Legislature earlier this year.

The “No on 1” campaign and gay marriage supporters plan to watch the results at the Holiday Inn By the Bay in Portland. Stand for Marriage Maine and “Yes on 1” supporters, meanwhile, will hold their own election party just a few blocks away at Portland’s Eastland Park Hotel as well as at Jeff’s Catering in Brewer.

Jesse Connolly, campaign manager for “No on 1,” said Tuesday night that he believes high turnout would benefit the effort to defend Maine’s same-sex marriage law.

“It’s something that we have been working for for a long time, and I’d say it’s a testament not only to our staff and volunteers but also to Maine people,” Connolly said.

With relatively few high-profile elections around the country, the national media spotlight will likely be on Maine which, if Question 1 is defeated, would become the first state in the nation where same-sex marriage was legalized at the ballot box rather than in the courts or through the legislature.

Traffic at many voting locations has been steady to busy all day. In Bangor, election officials said turnout hit 50 percent by 6 p.m.

In Augusta, voters were lined up about 30 deep at the check-in tables at around 4 p.m. The Secretary of State’s office also received more than 120,000 requests for absentee ballots.

Nicole Nickolan, the town clerk in Pittsfield, said in the early afternoon Tuesday that the turnout had been nearly as heavy as it was in 2008 for the presidential election.

“There are such important issues to decide this year,” she said, adding that at least 300 Pittsfield residents cast absentee ballots this year.

In addition to gay marriage, Mainers are also casting votes on proposals to restrict government spending through a Taxpayer Bill of Rights, to repeal the 2007 school consolidation law, to reduce the excise tax on newer vehicles and to amend the state’s medical marijuana law. A transportation bond and a constitutional amendment dealing pertaining to municipal clerks are also on the ballot.

BDN reporter Christopher Cousins contributed to this report.

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