Bangor Daily News editorial cartoonist George Danby pretty much summed up the situation that will face voters in Maine’s primary election on Tuesday. His cartoon in the Thursday morning newspaper showed a line of voters waiting to enter a voting booth that is already occupied. From behind the booth’s curtain as the hidden voter peruses the crowded ballot emanates the ages-old incantation employed the world over when making difficult choices — “eeny, meeny, miny, moe …”
Republican voters have seven candidates from which to choose their party’s nominee for governor in the November general election; Democrats have four. In addition, all voters will face a slate of four bond issues and a tax-repeal referendum question, and some will vote on other local issues, as well.
Come November, the Democrat and Republican nominees for governor who break from the pack on Tuesday may still have lots of company in their run for the Blaine House, as three independent candidates lurking in the weeds have already qualified to have their names on the ballot.
Throwing darts at the ballot in each major political party’s busy primary might be a good alternative to the eeny-meeny approach for voters whose apathy on the eve of the election may be exceeded only by their indecision.
According to a poll conducted by Pan Atlantic SMS Group of Portland, nearly 62 percent of 300 Democrats identifying themselves as likely to vote on Tuesday said they hadn’t decided which of the four candidates would get their vote. Forty-seven percent of Republicans allegedly were undecided as to which of the seven candidates on their ballot deserves a check mark beside his name.
Patrick Murphy, president of the polling firm, told reporters, “there’s just not a lot of excitement out there’’ as the days before the election dwindle down to a precious few. It was tough sledding just finding enough self-described “likely voters” to complete even the relatively small sampling of 300 of the species, he said.
Writing in Wednesday’s newspaper, BDN reporter Kevin Miller quoted University of Maine political scientist Amy Fried as suggesting that the high “undecided” response in the Pan Atlantic poll could reflect a perception among voters that the gubernatorial candidates are pretty much all of a size, as my farmer friends here in The County are fond of saying. “I think you get higher numbers of undecided voters when people are not differentiating between the candidates very much,” Fried said.
Or when they haven’t a clue as to who may be running for what, maybe. A survey conducted a month ago by Critical Insights, another Portland polling outfit, showed that 42 percent of participants couldn’t name even one of the 11 major party gubernatorial candidates. The exercise couldn’t have been less fruitful had those polled been asked to explain Einstein’s theory of relativity, say, or their latest convoluted billing statement from Medicare.
Chances are pretty good that anyone who can’t name a gubernatorial candidate one month before an election — after the principals have been campaigning and promoting their candidacies for months over the airwaves, in print and by mail — is not a particularly good bet to roll out of bed and rush off to the voting booth on Election Day, the obligations of exemplary civic duty notwithstanding.
With such a crowded field in the gubernatorial primary, the percentage of votes that winners in both major political parties attract figures to be low, perhaps spectacularly so in the case of the seven-man Republican race, where polls show that eeny, meeny, miny and moe appear to be nearly dead even in leading the pack as the endgame takes shape.
Voter participation in primary elections is always difficult to predict, and usually not much to brag about. Tuesday’s turnout probably won’t reflect much of a disruption in that pattern, even though times are tough and the electorate’s discontent allegedly approaches epic proportions.
Although that discontent may well be reflected in the vote on the bond issues and the tax-repeal question on the ballot, it may not have much impact on this preliminary round of the gubernatorial election. If that is to come it likely will be in November’s general election to choose a successor to Democratic Gov. John Baldacci, when the implications of national politics seem sure to enter the equation.
BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. Readers may reach him by e-mail at email@example.com.