Maine falls short of record turnout

Posted Nov. 10, 2008, at 9:37 p.m.

By Glenn Adams

AUGUSTA, Maine — In an election that elicited high expectations of voter participation, Maine last Tuesday fell short of the turnout figure from the presidential race four years ago. And the same appears to be the case in the other northern New England states.

Maine’s turnout of voter-age residents last Tuesday was 70 percent based on unofficial and still incomplete figures from state election officials, other vote-counting sources and the United States Elections Project at George Mason University. In the presidential race four years ago, nearly 74 percent of Maine’s eligible voters cast ballots.

In New Hampshire, home of the nation’s earliest primaries and first presidential election results, the actual number of voters, 720,030, was the highest ever. But officials were not sure whether the percentage of eligible voters who cast ballots for president — 70 percent — was a record.

The nearly 327,000 Vermont voters who cast ballots accounted for 66 percent of the state’s eligible voters. Of those, 29 percent — also a record — did so via early and absentee ballots, according to Secretary of State Deborah Markowitz. Last Tuesday’s turnout percentage of eligible voters falls short of the 1992 figure, she said.

But this year’s raw participation figure was higher than in the 2004 presidential election when 314,220 people cast ballots.

While voter participation by absentee ballots was heavy in all three northern New England states, it did not translate into record turnouts.

“What was interesting to me was that our [town] clerks were reporting that they thought it was going to be much higher. In part, that was because they had such an overwhelming demand for early ballots. Election Day in Vermont began weeks before Nov. 4. So it wasn’t as busy as it could’ve been,” Markowitz said.

Expectations of a record turnout were also high in Maine, said Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap.

“We had prepared ballots for a 100 percent turnout,” Dunlap said.

He cautioned that Maine’s figures still are not final, so the voterage turnout number could creep higher.

Dunlap also cautioned against putting too much emphasis on turnout and not enough on how the election is conducted.

“We are not breaking the record in the mile here,” Dunlap said. He noted that there were no major problems or glitches in the election, and minor problems that did occur were beyond election officials’ control.

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