Turnout was strong at polling places across Maine on Tuesday morning, and is expected to beat the record total for a gubernatorial election here.
The in-person voters added to the nearly 225,000 Mainers who cast absentee ballots as of Monday afternoon. Another 27,000 absentee ballots could be returned to municipal clerks by the time polls close statewide at 8 p.m.
It puts Maine on track to continue a strong record of voter participation in Tuesday’s election, which features blockbuster races between Gov. Janet Mills and former Gov. Paul LePage for control of the Blaine House, and Rep. Jared Golden of Maine’s 2nd District and former Rep. Bruce Poliquin’s bid to control the Legislature.
See all the results of the 2022 elections in Maine and how your community voted.
Voters steadily streamed into the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor Tuesday morning. Bangor election warden Cathy Lemin said that as of 10 a.m. Tuesday, 1,324 voters cast their votes in person. Another approximately 6,600 absentee ballots were submitted in Bangor, though Lemin said more came in through the weekend that had not yet been tallied.
Brewer had received nearly all 1,400 of the absentee ballots requested by 1 p.m. Tuesday, said City Clerk Vincent Migliore. Another nearly 1,500 people had come to vote in person and there was a line of people waiting to vote before the polls opened that morning, which Migliore said he hadn’t seen before.
Buxton also saw high voter turnout through the morning with about 50 percent of voters coming to cast their ballots, according to Town Clerk John Myers. He said this election seems to have higher voter turnout than the 2018 gubernatorial election.
Likewise in Caribou, City Clerk Danielle Brissette reported much higher than normal turnout that has continued steadily all day.
Maine has been in the top three among states in voter turnout in all but one presidential election going back to 1996. Midterm elections like this one are generally marked by lower turnout, but the state still saw just over 60 percent of the voting-eligible population cast ballots in the 2018 election, which was sixth in the country, according to the U.S. Elections Project.
That added up to 630,000 votes in the election won by Mills that year. Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, a Democrat, declined to issue a turnout projection Tuesday, but spokesperson Emily Cook said the office is “pleased by the strong absentee voting numbers” seen so far. Only the 2020 election had more absentee voters.
“Seems like it’ll be higher than 2018,” Cook said.
Julia Smith, a program coordinator at a local nonprofit, was among the steady stream of voters who braved low temperatures and strong winds to cast their ballots at Portland’s East End School on Tuesday morning.
Smith, 24, said she voted for Mills “because LePage is abysmal.”
Smith said she cares for her community and the safety of everyone, including new Mainers, people of color, the LGBTQ community, those with substance use disorder while LePage stigmatizes those communities, “if not outright incites violence and hate.”
Greg Bridges-Music, a Bangor resident and member of the LGBTQ community, also voted for Mills after watching LePage push back on equal rights when he served as governor.
“He says he wouldn’t do that, but I don’t trust him,” Bridges-Music said. “Janet [Mills] has been a really strong supporter of LGBTQ rights from the start, and that’s a big issue for our children and teenagers.”
Bridges-Music said he also had the priority of protecting women’s reproductive rights in mind when he cast his ballot for Golden.
“Anybody that is going to be more restrictive on our rights is a major concern for me, and I think for many Americans,” he said.
Celina Bernhardt of Bangor said she voted to make LePage Maine’s governor again because she’s unhappy with the trajectory of the state’s economy under the Mills administration and doesn’t agree with some policies.
Bernhardt also voted for Poliquin after watching Golden support many of Biden’s policies during his time in office.
“I’d like to have a Republican back in office to counter that,” Bernhardt said.
Vivian Ross, 80, of Brewer said she voted for Mills because she likes the professional way she conducts herself, especially during the challenging COVID-19 pandemic. Ross also voted for Golden because she respects that he doesn’t always vote with the rest of his party and is “an independent thinker.”
More than anything, Ross said she wants politicians to stop blaming one another for issues like inflation and work together to solve it.
At left: People wait in line just before 10 a.m. Tuesday to cast their votes at the Municipal Building gymnasium in Dover-Foxcroft. The polling place was busy when it first opened Tuesday, but voter traffic began to slow down around 10 a.m., a poll worker said. Credit: Valerie Royzman / BDN; at right: Houlton Town Clerk Khylee Wampler (right) makes sure the line to the voting boxes keeps moving during Tuesday morning’s elections. Voter turnout was heavy in the Shiretown with a steady line of people waiting to cast ballots. Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times
“When times get tough, you hunker down and work through it the best you can,” Ross said. “Don’t point fingers. It’s here, deal with it.”
Shea Hendricks, 22, of Old Town said she voted for both Mills and Golden because she believes they will both protect women’s rights to access abortion and other reproductive care while LePage and Poliquin would be threats to those rights.
Also in Old Town, Timothy Caldwell, 72, said he voted for LePage, even though Mills “has done a reasonable job but she’s also benefited from an enormous windfall of money.”
Calwell also voted for Poliquin because he feels the state and country is going in the wrong direction.
“Our kids can’t add 2+2, read or write cursive but they know where to get gender reassignment surgery,” he said. “They’re getting indoctrination, not an education.”
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.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated who Julia Smith was referring to when talking about caring for the community. It was herself.