Maine voters looked to be turning out in force in Tuesday’s presidential primaries, with the secretary of state saying he expected the state to break his conservative projection of up to 20 percent turnout with some of the largest cities reporting heavy activity.
The state was one of 14 voting in the Democratic presidential primaries on Super Tuesday, while President Donald Trump was unopposed on the Maine ballot. Voters here were also deciding on a people’s veto effort to repeal a new law scrapping nonmedical exemptions to school vaccine requirements.
Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, a Democrat, estimated that between 15 percent and 20 percent of registered voters would turn out for the election. In the late afternoon, he said that projection turned out to be “conservative” after visiting a Waterville polling place with lines out the door.
In Bangor, 4,200 registered voters had cast ballots by 6 p.m. Tuesday. Lewiston City Clerk Kathy Montejo noted “heavy activity” in the city around 6 p.m. In Portland, a city spokesperson said turnout in some places was as busy as the gubernatorial election of 2018.
A Portland precinct at Deering HS has run out of Democratic primary ballots, warden tells me. They’re expecting a delivery of photocopies, which election officials must count by hand.
Turnout was “colossal,” she said, the biggest surge among young, new and first-time voters. pic.twitter.com/Z0AoO4djIR
— Nick Schroeder (@n_a_schroeder) March 3, 2020
Several polling places ran out of ballots, including in Portland, Scarborough and Union. A 78-year-old man died after casting his ballot in Blue Hill, which led to a brief suspension of voting in the morning. Polls relocated to another part of the town hall for roughly an hour.
It was Maine’s first presidential primary since 2000. The Democratic-led Maine Legislature passed a law in 2019 switching to a state-run primary from party-run caucuses after the nominating race here in 2016 was marked by long lines at Democratic caucuses held in cities and towns and long travel times to Republican caucuses that were held regionally.
Dunlap said he thought interest among Democrats was being boosted after the presidential field winnowed to five active candidates after three candidates dropped out between Saturday and Monday, including former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana.
He was the second-place candidate in Maine behind front-running Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in a survey released last month by Colby College. Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who dropped out Monday, endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden on Monday.
In Presque Isle on Tuesday, Lynn Caring, a 57-year-old Sanders supporter, was uncertain about the eventual Democratic nominee’s chances to beat Trump, saying “a lot of old folks around here are probably all Democrats,” but “there are a lot of old folks that are Trump fans.”
“So I’m not really sure what’s going to happen with that,” she said. “It’s one of those wait-and-see kind of things.”
The vaccine referendum was also motivating voters. Michael Gosselin of Mars Hill, who voted to repeal the vaccine law, said he believed parents should be able to choose whether to vaccinate kids. But Jasper Lee, a Republican from Houlton, voted to preserve the vaccine law, calling it a matter of public health.
“I think our children should be vaccinated to stop other children from getting diseases,” he said.
BDN writers David Marino Jr. and Alexander MacDougall contributed to this report.