Early voting less popular this year in Maine than in 2008

By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff
Posted Nov. 03, 2012, at 3:02 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Absentee voting numbers released by the state Friday show Mainers have asked for about 66,000 fewer absentee ballots for this election than they did for the 2008 presidential election, in spite of campaigns from both political parties urging early voting.

By Friday, more than 188,000 Mainers had requested absentee ballots, compared to more than 244,000 for the election four years ago, according to the Maine Secretary of State’s Office.

Democrats requested about 74,000 absentee ballots, 25,000 fewer than in 2008. Republicans asked for 53,600 ballots this year, compared to nearly 67,500 in 2008. Unenrolled voters rounded out the bulk of the remaining requests with 55,500, nearly 16,000 fewer than four years ago.

In 2008, nearly 98 percent of requested absentee ballots were later accepted and counted. Thursday was the final day voters could request absentee ballots, which may still be submitted until 8 p.m. on Nov. 6.

Voters who weren’t able to obtain an absentee ballot on time because of an extenuating circumstance, such as illness or being sent out of the state for work, may apply to receive a ballot after Nov. 1, according to Megan Sanborn, spokeswoman for the Maine Secretary of State’s Office.

Despite the decrease from 2008 in ballot requests, Democrats were encouraged by the numbers. Friday’s numbers showed Democrats had requested about 39 percent of the absentee ballots, compared to the Republicans’ 28 percent. Unenrolled voters requested about 30 percent of the ballots.

When voters take action ahead of Election Day to support a candidate, “it’s an indicator of enthusiasm about the election,” Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant said Thursday.

He said he believed displeasure with “what’s going on in the Legislature under [Gov.] Paul LePage” also was prompting people to take early action in this election.

Lizzy Reinholt, spokeswoman for Maine Democrats, said the lower number of ballot requests could be attributed to the fact that there is an incumbent presidential candidate. While there is a lot of energy in this election, “it was extremely high-energy in 2008,” she said.

The Maine Republican Party isn’t fazed, and expects a substantial voter turnout on Election Day, according to party spokesman David Sorenson.

“I think Republicans are a little more old-fashioned sometimes when it comes to voting,” Sorenson said, adding that many like the “nostalgic feeling” of going to the polls to perform their civic duty on Election Day.

Across the country, Democrats and Republicans alike have been urged to vote early by their parties. More than one in three votes is expected to be cast before Nov. 6, according to national estimates.

Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine, said Thursday that both parties and both presidential candidates have been urging voters to get their votes in early, whether it be through in-person or traditional absentee voting.

The two main reasons for the push, Brewer said, are the likelihood that this will be a tight race and that an increasing number of states offered some form of early voting this election.

In Maine, “it certainly appears that Maine Democrats are putting a larger emphasis on early voting,” Brewer said.

That effort has included a robocall from former U.S. Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, urging Maine residents to take advantage of early voting opportunities.

At the University of Maine, a group of students supporting the legalization of gay marriage has provided transportation from campus to the Orono Town Hall to vote, Brewer said.

Sorenson conceded that Democrats had placed more emphasis on absentee voting than the Maine GOP, but he said he was confident Republicans would turn out in force on Election Day.

“The Republican base is much more likely to reliably turn out” than certain demographics of Democrats, such as young, low-income and minority voters, Brewer said.

Even one of the most contentious, expensive state Senate races in Maine’s history failed to draw more voters into the early voting fray for this presidential election.

In the race in Senate District 32 between Republican Nichi Farnham and Democrat Geoffrey Gratwick, the state’s two political parties and some political action committees have spent more than $414,000, mostly on negative publicity.

Voters in the district requested 7,700 absentee ballots, compared to more than 9,200 in 2008. Of those who requested absentee ballots this year, 39 percent were Democrats, 35 percent Republican, 24 percent unenrolled and 18 percent Green-Independents.

Outside the Bangor Civic Center on Thursday, the last day absentee ballots could be cast in person, residents said they came out before Nov. 6 to avoid long lines, filled parking lots and other Election Day headaches. Another common theme for early voters on Thursday — their minds were made up.

Alexandra Francis of Bangor, carrying her baby, Silas, on her hip, said it was more convenient to vote ahead of Nov. 6 to avoid having a long wait. Francis said she had never voted absentee before.

When asked whether anything that could happen between now and Election Day might change her mind on an issue or candidate, Terri Elder, another voter at the Civic Center on Thursday, said that wasn’t going to happen.

“I’ve made up my mind,” Elder said.

In-person absentee voting proved to be a popular option in Bangor, where about half of the 7,000 absentee ballots were requested and filled out in person at the Civic Center between Monday and Thursday, according to City Clerk Lisa Goodwin.

Both parties said they remain optimistic with Election Day approaching.

“But you don’t look at the scoreboard until the clock hits zero,” Grant said Thursday.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/11/03/politics/early-voting-less-popular-this-year-in-maine-than-in-2008/ printed on September 30, 2014