Secretary of State predicts 35 percent turnout Tuesday

Voters at the Bangor Civic Center take advantage of the last day of early voting in November 2010.
Voters at the Bangor Civic Center take advantage of the last day of early voting in November 2010.
Posted Nov. 06, 2011, at 1:52 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 07, 2011, at 10:54 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The number of absentee ballot requests statewide and Maine’s recent history in off-year elections has officials predicting voter turnout of about 30-35 percent on Tuesday.

Pockets of Maine, though, where the ballot questions have weightier implications, could see more voters weigh in.

“I would think Washington County, Biddeford and Lewiston would see some higher turnout because of the casino questions,” Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers said. “Certainly, the Portland mayor’s race is intriguing. Lewiston and Biddeford are electing mayors. Bangor has some local questions that will generate interest.”

Each sides of the campaigns for Question 1 — which asks voters to affirm or overturn a new law that bans Election Day registration — and for Questions 2 and 3 — which seek to expand gambling in Maine — will no doubt work hard to get their supporters to the polls.

In the last few days, television, radio and print ads have flooded potential voters. Some campaigns are still going door to door. Others are using automated phone calls.

For the most part, local officials in Maine’s two biggest markets said things have gone smoothly.

Bangor City Clerk Patti Dubois said late last week that 2,600 absentee ballots were requested. She expects approximately the same number of Bangor voters to show up on Election Day.

Nicole Clegg, spokeswoman for the City of Portland, said about 3,500 absentee ballots had been requested as of Nov. 3, which is the new cutoff day thanks to a law passed during the last session.

In Penobscot County only, voters will be asked to approve or reject plans to add table games at Hollywood Slots in Bangor. Summers said he believes its the first time a question has been directed only at voters in one county.

Statewide, Summers said 32,000 absentee ballots had been returned by last Friday and that number has the secretary of state predicting somewhere in the vicinity of 35 percent turnout.

In 2009, Maine’s last off-year election, turnout eclipsed 50 percent, although that was largely due to a people’s veto related to whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. In other off years, turnout has struggled to reach 25 or 30 percent.

By comparison, in even-year elections when Mainers get to vote for governor, president, or members of Congress, turnout can reach as high as 75 percent statewide.

Although voters could request absentee ballots only until Nov. 3 this year, ballots still can be returned on Monday or on Election Day. Asked whether voters were confused about the implications of LD 1376, a bill that passed in June and made changes to Maine’s election law, Summers admitted that response has been mixed.

LD 1376 moved up the deadline for absentee ballot requests to two business days before the election in order to ease the burden on municipal officials. The bill also imposed the same deadline for voter registration but that provision is on hold pending the people’s veto.

That means Mainers can still register on Tuesday. Polls in most communities open by 8 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.

Summers, who supports eliminating Election Day registration, said regardless of the outcome of Question 1, he thinks Maine’s election system needs more scrutiny.

“I hope a comprehensive look at the way we conduct our elections takes place, because as far as I can tell, Maine has never had that,” he said.

CORRECTION:

An earlier version of this story indicated that officials had predicted 25 percent turnout. Officials predict 35 percent turnout.

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