PORTLAND, Maine — For the eighth time in 11 years, Maine voters on Tuesday were asked to consider ballot questions on gambling — a pair of proposals that would create a casino and two racetrack slot parlors. Also on the ballot was a referendum aimed at restoring same-day voter registration.
Question 2 on Tuesday’s statewide ballot would allow racetrack casinos, or racinos, in Biddeford and Calais. Question 3 proposes a casino in Lewiston.
Voter turnout was uneven, with clerks in some communities such as Auburn and Bangor reporting moderate voter traffic, while others reported lower-than-expected numbers. Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers has predicted statewide voter turnout of 35 percent.
In Biddeford, some voters were wary of the racino plan while others said it’s a lifeline to the harness racing industry as well as a source of jobs.
Royal Marcoux, 69, said he voted against the racino based on his experiences in Atlantic City, N.J., where he was told not to go outside after dark.
“I saw what happened there,” said Marcoux, who recalled seeing trash and homeless people all around. “I don’t want it to happen here.”
But Mary Mitton, whose grandfather was a harness racing driver, said many people in Maine’s industry are forced to take their horses out of state to earn a decent living. “If this doesn’t go through, harness racing is gone from Maine,” Mitton said.
At the state’s eastern tip, voters in Calais were showing support for a racetrack casino to be operated by the Passamaquoddy Indian tribe.
“My thinking is let’s be fair to everybody,” said retiree Richard Farrar, who noted that Mainers already have approved other casinos in the state.
Maine’s first statewide gambling referendum, in 2000, asked voters if they wanted to allow slot machines at the Scarborough Downs racetrack. Voters said no, defeating it with 60 percent of the vote.
Since then, Mainers have voted on two referendums in 2003 and single ballot questions in 2007, 2008 and again in 2010. In all, voters have rejected four of the proposals while approving two of them, allowing for the Hollywood Slots racino in Bangor that opened in 2005 and a casino in Oxford that is slated to open this spring.
Some voters might be weary of seeing casino proposals in election after election, but the geographic scope of the three casinos under consideration Tuesday and their potential impact on already approved casinos in Bangor and Oxford should spark interest among voters statewide, said University of Maine political science professor Mark Brewer.
The state’s stagnant economy — and the campaign promises of thousands of jobs if the casinos are approved — should get voters’ attention, said MaryEllen FitzGerald, owner of the Critical Insights market research firm in Portland.
The other referendum that drew heavy spending and campaigning is aimed at restoring a longstanding state policy that allowed people to register to vote up to and including Election Day.
Question 1 on the referendum ballot is a “people’s veto” proposal aimed at repealing a law adopted by the Republican-led Legislature, which contended last-minute voter registrations opened up the system to potential fraud.
The new law requires people to register to vote at least two business days before an election. If that is repealed, a law allowing Election Day registration will be restored.
Voters in Bangor had mixed feelings about Question 1.
A husband and wife who declined to give their names differed on the issue.
“I [voted no so] that you can’t do same-day anymore, because I didn’t want fraud,” the woman said after casting her ballot at the Bangor Civic Center.
In Brewer, the turnout at the polls was steady, but the city wasn’t using its electronic voting machines because of an expected low turnout.
Unlike Bangor, Brewer will count its ballots by hand.
Also on the ballot is a constitutional amendment that saw little or no debate.
The proposed amendment would bring Maine in line with the rest of the country when it comes to the timing of congressional redistricting starting in 2021.
It also would require a two-thirds majority from each chamber of the Legislature to approve a redistricting plan. Current law requires a two-thirds majority but is easily circumvented by the party in power, allowing a lower standard for passage.