In this Nov. 3, 2020, file photo, caution tape closes off a voting stall to help distance voters to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus during Election Day at the East End School in Portland. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Good morning from Augusta. The list of 330 bills proposed for Maine’s 2022 legislative session was released Friday. Leaders must approve them. Here’s your soundtrack.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I wish I had a nickel for every time someone told me nothing could ever happen there,” former Westbrook Mayor Colleen Hilton said of development at Rock Row in the city that has emerged as an affordable alternative to Portland amid rising housing prices in southern Maine.

What we’re watching today

Absentee voting kicks off today ahead of the November referendum on the Central Maine Power corridor, along with two other ballot questions and local races. The controversial $1 billion project could drive higher turnout for an odd-year election, although that has not shown up yet with absentee voting just kicking off today.

Maine set a record for turnout in a general election in 2020, when nearly 820,000 people voted. But turnout in off-year elections has varied over the past decade depending on what is on the ballot. In 2009, when Mainers were tasked with voting on seven ballot questions, including a referendum to overturn the Legislature’s legalization of same-sex marriage, 568,000 voters turned out, accounting for about 77 percent of turnout in the previous year’s general election. 

Ballot questions since then have not generated as much excitement. Nearly 347,000 voters cast ballots in 2017, when progressives campaigned for a referendum to expand Medicaid in Maine, but fewer than 190,000 turned out in 2019, when the ballot only consisted of a bond question and a constitutional amendment dealing with voting assistance for people with disabilities.

The corridor referendum is a high-profile fight that has drawn record sums of paid media. The possibility of a ballot question has loomed for nearly two years after opponents of the project initially gathered signatures for a referendum last year, only to have the Maine Supreme Judicial Court rule it unconstitutional.

Since the start of 2020, the fight has attracted more than $42 million in spending, led by CMP’s efforts to shore up the corridor’s popularity, although anti-corridor groups, funded by rival energy companies, have spent millions as well. That is not including spending from the past three months, which will be reported in mid-October. The only political race in Maine history to ever exceed that was the titanic 2020 U.S. Senate campaign.

As of late last week, more than 19,000 Mainers had requested absentee ballots, according to the Maine secretary of state’s office. That is a relatively small number following a year when Maine set records for absentee voting levels amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but there are still three-and-a-half weeks to request ballots, and more voters may be comfortable voting in person this November due to the widespread availability of vaccines.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Former Maine elections chief to leave auditor position after failing necessary exams,” Jessica Piper and Michael Shepherd, Bangor Daily News: “In a Friday letter to [Senate President Troy] Jackson, [State Auditor Matt] Dunlap said he failed the second and third exams required to become an internal auditor last month and would not be allowed to retake them for 60 days, which made it impossible for him to become certified within the legal window.”

Dunlap will keep trying to get certified for the job, but it’s unclear if he will get the title back. The former secretary of state had nine months under Maine law to get qualified. While he could not make that deadline, he said he plans to keep trying to get the certification and that he would like to be reappointed to the auditor position if he succeeds. Jackson, who has the authority to nominate the new auditor, was noncommittal on Friday when his office was asked whether he would consider Dunlap at that time.

— “COVID-19 hospitalizations are down in Bangor,” David Marino Jr., BDN: “Dr. James Jarvis, senior physician executive of Northern Light Health’s COVID-19 response, said Wednesday that Maine seemed to be at a ‘plateau’ in coronavirus numbers. However, he said that it is often difficult to anticipate the future spread of such an unpredictable virus.”

Hospitalizations continued to drop over the weekend even as case levels remain high. Maine reported 741 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, with the seven-day average of new cases rising to 612 — almost a record. But the number of patients hospitalized with the virus as of Sunday was 205, down from a record of 235 eight days prior. A greater percentage of hospitalized patients in Maine have been vaccinated in recent weeks, but officials said that reflects Maine’s high vaccination rate, along with the fact that older Mainers are more likely to be vaccinated and more likely to be at risk of severe COVID-19. Unvaccinated individuals are still far more likely to end up in the hospital than those who are vaccinated.

— “Janet Mills’ administration applies for federal lease for offshore wind test site,” Lori Valigra, BDN: “The office is asking the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to lease a 15.2-square-mile area about 30 miles offshore in federal waters in the Gulf of Maine. The Democratic governor signed legislation in June that prohibits new offshore wind projects in state waters extending three miles offshore and where a majority of commercial fishing occurs.”

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Jessica Piper and edited by Michael Shepherd. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, you can sign up to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning here.

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