AUGUSTA, Maine — Less than a fifth of Maine’s registered voters will likely hit the polls on Tuesday, which could give the state’s two largest cities an outsized impact on the outcome of three state ballot questions.
Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap’s office said between 13 and 17 percent of Maine’s registered voters is expected turn out for the elections, where all Maine voters will decide on Question 1, an election reform effort, and $100 million in transportation and housing bonds.
So far, less than 2 percent of registered Maine voters have returned valid absentee ballots.
But voters in Lewiston — where four candidates, including well-funded liberal activist Ben Chin, are looking to oust controversial two-term Mayor Robert Macdonald — are much more interested. Nearly 1,700 voters — or just under 7 percent — have filed absentee ballots there. The state Republican and Democratic parties have targeted the race, and Chin works for the liberal Maine’s People Alliance, which is largely running his campaign.
Genevieve Lysen, Chin’s campaign manager, attributed Lewiston’s high absentee vote total to the “immense energy and excitement around this election” and an aggressive get-out-the-vote campaign that will include hundreds of volunteers making calls and knocking on doors.
At 3 percent, interest is lower so far in Portland, where Mayor Michael Brennan looks like the underdog in his re-election race. Fellow former Democratic legislator Ethan Strimling has emerged as the favorite, and Tom MacMillan of the Green Independent Party also is in the race.
Higher turnout for those mayoral races could help supporters of Question 1, said Brian Duff, a political scientist at the University of New England in Biddeford. The referendum question would increase spending on publicly funded elections, while also adding campaign disclosure provisions and stiffer penalties to Maine election law.
“Portland is a little more likely to have sympathy for the idea of public financing,” said Duff on Monday. “Maybe it’s just a little more of a push in a place like Lewiston.”
Mainers for Accountable Elections, the group campaigning in support of Question 1, has raised more than $1 million so far and has run television ads to support it. The campaign said it would have hundreds of volunteers participating in get-out-the-vote efforts between Saturday and Tuesday.
The question’s opponents, organized under a political action committee called Mainers Against Welfare for Politicians, face an uphill battle. They’ve raised just over $30,000. Much of that has gone toward signs, radio ads and robocalls.
“We’ve seen a huge growth in interest, which has been very exciting,” said state Rep. Joel Stetkis, R-Canaan, the group’s leader.
There also are contested mayoral races in Biddeford and Auburn, as well as two special elections for vacant Maine House of Representative seats in Sanford and Standish.