Despite rain in some parts of the state, turnout appeared strong throughout Maine as voters headed to the polls to elect a new governor and Legislature, while also participating in the nation’s first congressional elections to use ranked-choice voting.
Based on early absentee voting — which ended Thursday — Secretary of State Matt Dunlap predicted voter turnout would register in the neighborhood of 65 percent, which would be high for a nonpresidential election.
Based on what Mainers are saying at the polls, voters were motivated by concerns about health care and the direction the United States has taken under Republican President Donald Trump.
Here is a random sampling of what voters said Tuesday at the polls:
The contest to succeed two-term Republican Gov. Paul LePage appears to be a two-person race between Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat, and Republican businessman Shawn Moody. Mills led in the most recent public poll in the race at October’s end, but there have been only three public polls since August.
After the latest poll, Mills said her polling indicates “a dead heat” with Moody. The Republican told a reporter on Sunday in Augusta that he feels “the same grassroots support” that led him to a surprisingly dominant victory in the June primary for his party’s gubernatorial nomination.
While State Treasurer Terry Hayes, an independent, is a long shot to win, her vote total is worth watching in the plurality race. She has not cracked double-digits in any public poll, but Republicans have tried to boost her with liberals in mailers and ads in a bankshot bid to defeat Mills. Democrats have long called for her to leave the race.
“I voted for Mills, for one, because she’s a woman, and two, her closest [opponents] are just four more years of LePage,” said Kirsten Monson, a nurse from Bangor.
In Rockland, Kiwi Barros, 27, said she was passionate about casting her ballot on Tuesday because she “was just really excited to get LePage out.”
Barros, who works for a catering company, voted for Mills, saying the Democrat empowered her during the election, and shared her beliefs on women’s issues and the environment.
Deborah St. Cyr, 47, a self-employed chimney sweep from Bridgton, and her mother, Madeline Parke, 70, a retired house cleaner who also has her own business, stand firmly behind Moody because of his support of small businesses.
“Moody came from a small business background,” St. Cyr said. “He seems to be concerned about all of Maine and is not just partisan. And he doesn’t come from a family of career politicians.”
Benjamin Dunham, 40, of Old Town has been a self-employed carpenter for 20 years. He voted a straight-Republican ticket. “I voted for Shawn Moody for governor,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I had much of a choice. For me, he was the only viable candidate whose values are the same as mine.” Those values include fiscal responsibility and education.
Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King is favored to win a second and likely final term over state Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, and Democrat Zak Ringelstein.
Rockland resident Don Johnson, 80, said he was happy to vote for King again. Johnson, who has met King on multiple occasions, said he is always impressed by King’s “integrity, clarity and humanness.”
Bob Adler of Belfast, who grew up in New York City and described himself as a “lifelong Democrat,” didn’t hesitate when he cast his vote for King.
“Zak may be a good guy,” he said of Democratic challenger Ringelstein. “But in the case of Angus King I don’t think there’s any reason to lose the benefits of his seniority in the Senate.”
Old Town resident Benjamin Dunham, 40, voted for Brakey, he said, to continue the current immigration policies. “I feel like we have to take care of our citizens here, now, before we can attempt to take care of others,” he said.
Brady Butler, 33, of Old Town would have preferred to have a socialist candidate on the ballot, but since there wasn’t one running, he ranked Ringelstein as his first choice and King as his second.
“I think we are moving toward a place where we are going to have to choose between socialism and barbarism,” Butler said. “The compassionate choice is socialism, but Donald Trump is moving us toward barbarism.”
The biggest national prize in the 2018 election is the House, which Republicans have controlled since 2010. Democrats are favored to take it back in a midterm year for Trump, while Republicans will likely hold the Senate. U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine’s 1st District, is likely to fend off a ranked-choice voting challenge from state Rep. Marty Grohman, I-Biddeford, and Republican Mark Holbrook, though the race could heat up if Grohman can overtake Holbrook in the first round of voting.
Voter response in that race was generally more tepid than in other Election Day contests, although Bill Vincent, 61, a tile contractor from Bridgton, pulled no punches when explaining his vote for Holbrook. “I’m sick and tired of people crapping all over Trump but enjoying the benefits of what he’s done,” he said.
Maine’s 2nd District is seen as a fulcrum. It went for Trump by 10 percentage points in 2016 in a historic split of Maine, but Poliquin faces a tough matchup with Golden, a Marine veteran who outraised the incumbent behind a wave of individual donors. If the incumbent hangs on, Republicans may stem the bleeding. A Golden win could portend a solid Democratic year.
Rita and James Horsey, retirees who live in Belfast and who have been involved in the local Tea Party movement, solidly back Poliquin for a third term.
“I think he’s a fine representative. He’s certainly represented our district well,” Rita Horsey said. “I’m just really happy with him.”
Julia Waldron, 21, of Old Town offered a contrasting viewpoint.
“I’d like to see Poliquin out of his seat,” she said. “I don’t think his beliefs are my beliefs. I believe Golden will set us up for the future and support health care for everyone as a right. That’s the biggest reason I voted for him.”
Based on an unscientific survey, Mainers seemed generally comfortable with their first experience with ranked ballots.
For at least one voter, the process provided a new sense of satisfaction. Belfast resident Carl Collins, a retired Marine Corps veteran who wore a military pin on his cap, said that he was glad to have the opportunity to put ranked-choice voting to good use.
“I was so happy to vote today because I got to put Bruce Poliquin last. That was the happiest fourth place vote in my entire life,” he said, adding that he was surprised how many people were at the polls. “I can’t believe the turnout. I’m 72 years old, and this is the longest I’ve waited to vote.”