Tuesday is expected to see low turnout in the absence of a competitive gubernatorial primary, Maine’s top election official said.
Secretary of State Shenna Bellows said roughly 25 percent of voters could head to the polls Tuesday. She said that was likely because Democratic Gov. Janet Mills and former Republican Gov. Paul LePage have no primary challengers, which would usually drive voters out.
But turnout could also vary across the state as some districts see more pitched races than others. Of the 349 legislative primaries on Tuesday, only 32 are contested.
Bellows’ office was reporting just over 32,000 absentee ballot requests as of Monday afternoon with about three-fourths returned so far. That is far lower than the competitive 2018 primaries, when 36,000 ballots were requested ahead of time. But turnout still ended up at 260,000 due to a competitive governor’s race from both major parties and a statewide referendum.
The July 2020 primary was largely driven by absentee voting with 206,000 ballots requested ahead of time and 90 percent of those returned. But that was due to a large shift to absentee voting during the COVID-19 pandemic and the high-profile Democratic U.S. Senate race.
Few races on Tuesday’s ballot are as high stakes as those contests. Former Rep. Bruce Poliquin faces a Republican primary challenge from underdog Liz Caruso for the right to oppose Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat from the swing 2nd Congressional District, while there is a special election for an open Maine Senate seat in Hancock County.
Turnout looked relatively high in the center of that district, where former Sen. Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth, and Rep. Nicole Grohoski, D-Ellsworth, greeted voters at the City Hall polling place. Around midday, nearly 25 percent of those registered had voted either in person or absentee. In the western part of the district, Blue Hill voting was steady but lower at 17 percent just after noon.
But Bellows said her office will be watching for the possibility of a ranked-choice voting runoff in Waterville, where Rep. Mike Perkins, R-Oakland, is facing off against Kevin Kitchin and Mark Andre, and the three-way contest between Rep. John Andrews, R-Paris, Ryan Ricci and Dannie Abbott. The 2nd Congressional District primary could also spur more turnout in those areas.
“I wouldn’t read too much into areas where there aren’t contested elections,” Bellows said.
Scarborough deputy warden Allen Paul, who helps oversee the town’s elections, estimated that 500 people had voted in-person so far a little after 10:30 a.m. He said another 1,000 had cast absentee ballots, only amounting to roughly 8 percent turnout so far, a mark he called “unusually low.” He hoped to get around 2,500 in-person voters.
The vote was held at Scarborough High School as students did their final exams. Some students who were taking them had even come in, registered to vote and then voted, he said.
“We love to see it,” Paul said.
BDN reporter David Marino Jr. contributed to this story.