AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine voters will head to the polls today to choose the Republican and Democratic nominees for governor and the Legislature as well as to decide the fate of a controversial tax reform law and several bond packages.
On Monday, state officials and municipal clerks were making final preparations for an election that is not expected to draw large numbers to the polls. Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said he expects voter turnout to fall somewhere between 18 percent and 20 percent based on similar primary elections.
“Typically, it’s still a fairly light [turnout] involving our most engaged voters,” Dunlap said.
Voter turnout was just short of 19 percent in 2002, the last time there was an “open seat” in the Blaine House. That year featured a two-person Republican primary for governor and 10 candidates in the Democratic and GOP primaries for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District.
Bangor City Clerk Patti Dubois and Portland City Clerk Linda Cohen both said they also were anticipating about 20 percent of the registered voters in their cities to participate in today’s election.
Cohen said Monday afternoon she was surprised to see a line at her office, although those people were likely a mix of regular business customers and early voters. Her office had sent out more than 1,700 absentee ballots as of Saturday.
“It hasn’t been really busy until today,” Cohen said.
In Maine, primary races are open only to voters registered with that party. But unenrolled voters still cast ballots on the bond questions and on Question 1, the people’s veto of tax reform legislation.
Voters who are unenrolled also can cast ballots in the primary elections by joining that particular party on Election Day. The deadline has passed, however, for Democrats, Republicans and Green Independents to change parties to participate in a different primary.
Individuals who have not yet registered to vote also can participate in today’s elections by filling out the paperwork on the spot with their town clerks.
In the gubernatorial primary races, candidates were traveling throughout the state on Monday in hopes of mobilizing their supporters. They also were targeting the significant numbers of Mainers who have yet to ally themselves with any candidate.
A poll of likely voters conducted in late May suggested that as many as 6 in 10 Democrats and nearly half of the Republicans surveyed remained undecided.
On the Republican side, seven candidates are hoping to capture the GOP nomination. They are Steve Abbott of Portland, the former chief of staff for Sen. Susan Collins; former Husson University President Bill Beardsley of Ellsworth; Matt Jacobson of Cumberland, who runs a business recruiting firm; Waterville Mayor Paul LePage; state Sen. Peter Mills, an attorney from Cornville; businessman Les Otten of Bethel; and Bruce Poliquin, a businessman from Georgetown.
Democrats have their choice of four gubernatorial candidates: former conservation commissioner Pat McGowan of Hallowell; Senate President Libby Mitchell of Vassalboro; former state Attorney General Steve Rowe of Portland; and businesswoman Rosa Scarcelli of Portland.
Democratic voters also will see a fifth name on the ballot — John Richardson of Brunswick — although he is no longer in the race.
Richardson, a former economic development commissioner and House speaker, withdrew from the primary in late April after failing to qualify for public financing due, in part, to alleged fraudulent activities by some campaign workers. Richardson dropped out of the race after the ballots had already been printed.
State election officials said at the time that votes for Richardson would not be counted. Dunlap acknowledged Monday that he and other elections staff had misread the law and that Richardson’s votes will, in fact, be tallied.
And what would happen in the unlikely event that Richardson won the Democratic primary?
“We would have to figure out what to do then,” Dunlap said.
Whoever wins the Democratic and Republican primaries will face three independent — or unenrolled — candidates who already have met the deadline to qualify for the November ballot. Because that deadline has passed, the losers of Tuesday’s Democratic and Republican primaries cannot attempt to run in November as independents.
Question 1 on today’s ballot has also received considerable attention in recent weeks.
Question 1 asks voters whether they want to repeal a tax restructuring law that lowers Maine’s top income tax rate for those earning less than $250,000 a year from 8.5 percent to 6.5 percent.
The law, which was passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. John Baldacci last year, also applies Maine’s 5 percent sales tax to more than 100 goods and services currently exempt from taxation. Lastly, it increases Maine’s meals and lodging tax from 7 percent to 8.5 percent.
A yes vote on Question 1 supports repealing the new tax law; a no vote supports allowing the new tax structure to take effect.
Questions 2 through 5 on the ballot seek voter approval for $108.3 million in bonds to fund investments in renewable energy, highway and transportation infrastructure improvements, research and development, job creation programs and water quality improvement projects.
Question 3 includes bonds for the state to purchase roughly 240 miles of railroad tracks — now threatened with abandonment — that serve large industries in Aroostook County.