BANGOR, Maine — With presidential, congressional, state and local races, a controversial same-sex marriage referendum and four bond issues on the ballot, election officials from some of Maine’s biggest cities reported strong voter turnout Tuesday.
Whether this will be a record year, however, remains to be seen.
“It’s hard for me to predict because this is my first year in Bangor,” said Bangor City Clerk Lisa Goodwin, who assumed her post at City Hall earlier this year. “From what we’ve had with absentee voting, I would predict that we would have a strong turnout but not as high as the last presidential [election].” The 2008 election drew about 16,000 of the city’s estimated 22,000 registered voters, or just over 70 percent.
Nicole Clegg, spokeswoman for the city of Portland, said turnout there was strong as well, though not overwhelmingly so. “It’s been consistent with the last presidential election,” she said. About 80 percent of the city’s registered voters turned out in 2008.
Goodwin and Clegg both said that fewer voters had requested absentee ballots than in previous years, a point also made by Megan Sanborn, special assistant to the Maine secretary of state.
Sanborn said Tuesday that turnout is usually strong for a presidential election.
Nearly 72 percent of registered Maine voters cast ballots in 2008, and when residents elected a president in 2004, the percentage was around 68 percent, she said.
This year’s same-sex marriage initiative also may draw voters to the polls, she said.
The Election Day scene at the Bangor Civic Center was lively, as voters streamed into the Bangor Civic Center to cast their votes. Because of the distance some voters had to park away from the polling cite, the city this year arranged to have four golf carts on hand to ferry people back and forth.
Many of the thousands who turned out were voting in Bangor for the first time. There were lines leading to each of the several registration tables in the lobby.
“We have never seen so many people register to vote [on Election Day],” said Bangor election worker Gerald Oleson, who has 15 years of experience with city elections under his belt.
“This is the most people I’ve ever seen here. I think this is a great turnout,” said Bangor voter Dick Kitchen, who voted Tuesday morning with his wife, Judy Kitchen. He said he did not come to the polls for any particular issue or candidate but because he and his wife are dedicated voters who participate in every election.
Gerry Palmer, a former City Council chairman, said he liked what he saw Tuesday.
“This is the American way, this is Bangor. It’s great to see the candidates. I think the new city clerk has got things well in hand,” Palmer said.
“This is the last presidential election in this building,” Palmer said. That is because construction is under way on the Cross Insurance Center nearby, and the civic center eventually will be torn down. Palmer said if he had his druthers, voting would be moved to the new center.
“I would very much support it being in the new facility,” he said. “I know that does not generate revenue but for such an import thing as voting, there should be an important place for that to happen in our community. I think the new arena is the place for that to happen.”
Bangor officials have not yet decided where residents will vote in the future.
As is the case at most Bangor elections, candidates for various state and local offices greeted voters at the main entrance.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Bangor resident, said Tuesday that she was able to vote in person because Congress is on break this week. That soon will change.
“We go back into session next week and there’s an awful lot of work to do in the lame duck session — an awful lot of work, like the entire budget — so it’s going to be very, very busy,” the Republican senator said after casting her ballot. “Too many issues have been put off until after the election, so I anticipate that when we reconvene next week, it will be nonstop until Christmas.
“The looming threats to the state of Maine are the expiration of all the tax relief that’s been in effect for the last decade [and] the very deep cuts in spending for defense, for education, for transposition, for biomedical research that go into effect in January unless we act,” she said.
“Economists have told us that the combination of the [two] would cause unemployment to go back to over 9 percent, so we simply must act to come up with a reasonable plan to deal with those issues, and that’s my No. 1 priority.”
Turnout was steady in some of Maine’s medium and smaller communities as well.
Brewer City Clerk Howard Kroll said that as of about 2 p.m., nearly 45 percent of the city’s voters had cast their ballots.
“It’s been steady all day,” Kroll said, adding that although all the voting booths at the Brewer Auditorium were occupied at any given time Tuesday morning and afternoon, the waiting lines were short.
“When all is said and done, I think we’ll see somewhere between 70 and 85 percent,” he said.
Hermon also was seeing large numbers of voters, according to interim Town Clerk Ruth Nickerson.
“We haven’t had an empty booth all day. We’ve had 1,723 voters come in so far,” Nickerson said with four hours to go before the polls were scheduled to close.
“Things are running smoothly. We are one of the towns [that the state has provided with] a new tabulator. People are adjusting to the change and the line out is a little slow, but otherwise everything is going well.”
BDN writer Nok-Noi Ricker contributed to this report.