April 19, 2018
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Long lines at registration tables Tuesday may have keyed victory for same-sex marriage

Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
First time voter Michael Beale (center), 21, feeds his ballot into the ballot box at the Brewer Auditorium Tuesday morning. Happy about his first voting experience, Beale said "I feel like I have a say in it all. It's only one vote, but it's something."
By Seth Koenig, BDN Staff

Election officials around Maine say same-day voter registration numbers were high Tuesday, causing long waits at the polls and — some analysts say — a boost in support for same-sex marriage.

“We had a tremendous line from before the doors opened at 7 a.m. and right up until 8:20 p.m.,” Mike Gleason, Bangor deputy registrar, said Wednesday. “We had between seven and 12 people at various times doing just voter registrations.”

Political analysts watching the returns told the Bangor Daily News on Wednesday it may not be a stretch to tie the passage of Question 1 — which legalized same-sex marriage in Maine — to those long lines at the registration tables Tuesday.

Gleason said Bangor poll workers processed about 1,750 voter registrations on Tuesday, up from about 1,000 most years. Among municipal clerks and elections officials contacted by the BDN on Wednesday, Gleason was the exception in that he had early numbers quantifying the high number of same-day voter registrations. But many others who did not have those tallies said they experienced long lines at the registration tables and expected their numbers will be similarly high once they’re officially tabulated.

In nearby Orono, Town Clerk Donna Emerson said Wednesday afternoon her staff still had to enter “two big boxes” of voter registration cards collected at the polls into the town’s computers. She said Tuesday’s same-day registrations were high even for a community with the state’s flagship university, where many students are voting for the first time or living away from their hometowns.

Emerson later reported that she and her staff processed 1,733 same-day voter registration cards, and attributed much of the volume to the new student apartment complex The Grove in Ward 1, Precinct 1.

“It really made a huge impact on that ward, because there were so many kids registering to vote yesterday,” she said.

Jessica Hanscombe, assistant city clerk for South Portland, said her office saw double the number of same-day voter registrations as in most years. She said South Portland bulked up its Election Day staff, knowing they would see a spike in traffic because of the presidential election.

“We knew that we would be busy,” she said. “We doubled the staff at all the tables — more training for them, more cards. And we had one person we called a ‘floater,’ who moved between polling places as we expected them to be busy based on the demographics of the areas.”

Ethan Strimling, former Democratic state senator and current political blogger for the BDN, said he went to vote around 3 p.m. at Portland’s polling place at Reiche Elementary School.

“There was a line down the hallway inside Reiche, and when you went into the gymnasium itself, there was a line twice as long,” he said. “There were probably 75 people in line between the two lines, and that was just the one moment I was there. Imagine if there were lines like that throughout the day and if those people hadn’t been allowed to vote?”

A law passed by the Republican-controlled state Legislature in 2011 aimed to eliminate same-day voter registrations, but the measure was overturned by voters at the polls just a few months later.

Megan Sanborn, spokeswoman for the Maine secretary of state’s office, said Wednesday it will be weeks before state election officials know how many voters took advantage of their reinforced same-day registration rights a year later.

“Towns have three days to get all of their results to the secretary of state’s office,” she said. “We’ll have a better idea of voter turnout at the end of the week, but with regard to voter registration at the polls, we won’t know that for a while. … Numbers look like they were high from what I’ve heard, so I would assume that would correlate to high numbers of voter registrations the same day.”

Emily Shaw, assistant professor of political science at Thomas College in Waterville, said large numbers of voter registrations at the polls often correlates to a high turnout among young voters; which, in turn, could have correlated to strong support for same-sex marriage, she said.

“Younger people do seem to have a higher support for same sex-marriage than older voters … so that may have played a role in the margin of victory for Question 1,” she said.

Question 1, a referendum on whether to legalize same-sex marriage in Maine for the first time, unofficially passed with 53 percent of the vote Tuesday — 364,403 votes to 329,044, with 97 percent of the state’s precincts counted Wednesday afternoon.

“I think a lot of young people had strong feelings about the marriage referendum,” said Jim Melcher, associate professor of political science at the University of Maine at Farmington. “Young people are the ones less likely to have been registered previously, and I understand the lines were out the door at the registration table in Farmington.”

Shaw said that while younger voters do trend in favor of same-sex marriage, they aren’t necessarily Democrats, and at this point can’t be reliably tied to any other Election Day outcome. Some conservatives — including BDN political columnists Matt Gagnon and Phil Harriman — have argued that a small government approach should include less government say in who should be allowed to marry.

“That [young voters are liberal] was the line after 2008, but youth voters actually skewed Republican in 2010,” Shaw said. “I don’t know if there is necessarily a solid partisan argument to be made, at least based on what I’ve seen so far.”

Strimling said he didn’t detect a single, overriding demographic among the voters waiting in line to register at Reiche Elementary School — “they could have been families, they could have been young people, they could have been older people.”

But he said it shouldn’t matter who they are or what their voting preferences are. People who register on Election Day are afforded just as much say in deciding how Maine and America should be run as people who register any other day, Strimling said.

“What impact, ideologically, voters registering on Election Day have on the outcomes should never be the concern of a politician, should never be the concern of someone developing public policy,” he said. “The only concern they should have is making sure as many people as possible who can legally vote have the opportunity to do so.”

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