A man exits the Cross Insurance Center after voting on Election Day. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

People across Maine braved waiting outside in cold weather, including snowfall, on Tuesday morning to vote in what will likely be an election with record turnout.

The line of 50 to 60 people outside the East End Community School in Portland on Tuesday morning was quiet, and it was taking about an hour and a half to vote around 9 a.m., but one woman shouted to her neighbor, “I’ll wait as long as it takes.” Poll workers paced up and down the lines at polling places in both the East End and West End, giving out hand warmers in the cold wind.

There was a 60-to-90-minute wait at the Portland Exposition Building around 9:30 a.m. And at the Howard C. Reiche Community School on the West End, about 65 people gathered in line in the 37-degree weather, spaced 6 feet apart, to cast their ballots.

In Bangor and Brewer, a light snow fell before 9:30 a.m. as voters walked inside their polling stations. There were no lines at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, with voters saying it only took them a couple minutes to vote. Similarly there were no lines in Orono. But in Brewer, one voter said he waited about 45 minutes in a line of about 100 people at 9 a.m.

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said there was “no question” Maine would break the 2016 turnout record of nearly 772,000 voters after nearly 500,000 successfully voted by absentee ballot as of Monday afternoon.

While there were lines outside many polling places across the state early Tuesday, they were largely due to coronavirus distancing measures.

Dunlap said voter protection advocates have complained about a handful of election workers in small towns not wearing masks, but he called that “a problem in the minor key.”

Adele Ngoy, 55, a fashion designer who owns the Portland tailor shop Antoine’s Formal Wear, decided to vote in person because she “wanted it to feel like it’s real,” she said, wearing a blue patterned mask. “It feels real when I come in person. I don’t want to miss it.”

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She has supported Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins in the past but decided to vote for her challenger, House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, Tuesday morning.

“This past year, I didn’t think she supported us as Mainers. I feel like she turned out to be a different person,” Ngoy said.

She also cast her vote for Biden, saying “the coronavirus and the division in our country” are the most pressing issues facing the nation.

Bangor postal worker Dan Whitney, 42, said he voted for Trump because he liked the way the country was going before the pandemic, and he didn’t see anything improving with Biden. He also voted for Collins.

“If we vote her in, we still have a senior senator. If we vote in Gideon, she’s a relative unknown, and then we lose our senior senator,” said Whitney, whose No. 1 priority is getting the economy “back on track.” He said, “I don’t think [Gideon] has the right values for the state.”

Jennifer Kelly, a stay-at-home mother in Bangor, told her husband he needed to stay home with the kids, so she could vote.

“Today is the day I got to get out of the house,” Kelly said, who added that she voted for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden mostly because she was sick of President Donald Trump. “I made my husband stay home from work and said ‘I gotta go vote!’”

Ngoy, Whitney and Kelly are three of thousands expected to cast their ballots in person today after a record-setting number voted absentee during the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to a likely record turnout, there are a few notable differences this year compared with 2016.

Those changes could swing competitive races, including the presidential race in the 2nd Congressional District between Trump and Biden, and the U.S. Senate contest between Gideon and Collins. The Senate race also includes independents Lisa Savage and Max Linn. 

Here are three measurable differences:

— More Maine people who sat out the last presidential election are voting this year. Among those who had already cast ballots as of the middle of last week, nearly 22 percent did not vote in 2016, according to data compiled by TargetSmart, a Democratic data firm.

— Early turnout among voters under age 30 in Maine is more than double 2016 levels, according to TargetSmart. That change is more likely to favor Democrats.

— As of Monday at 3 p.m., 499,939 absentee ballots had been accepted, representing 47 percent of registered voters and 65 percent of voter turnout in the last presidential election. But the record numbers are unlikely to slow down ballot counting by cities and towns, given that the state allowed them to start processing absentee ballots early.

Polls are open until 8 p.m., per state law. If you need to find your polling place, the state offers a tool here. If you are not registered to vote, you can do that at the polls. If you haven’t dropped off your absentee ballot yet, you can do that in person until 8 p.m. tonight.

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Erin Rhoda

Erin Rhoda is the editor of Maine Focus, a team that conducts journalism investigations and projects at the Bangor Daily News. She also writes for the newspaper, often centering her work on domestic and...

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Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.

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Callie Ferguson

Callie Ferguson is an investigative reporter for the Bangor Daily News. She writes about criminal justice, police and housing.