AUGUSTA, Maine — Voter turnout across Maine looked roughly average in Tuesday’s election but was healthy in Lewiston, which was deciding a slate of local races nearly two weeks after a mass shooting there.
Eight referendum questions face Maine voters this year. The only one seeing a major campaign was Question 3, which would replace Central Maine Power Co. and Versant Power with an elected board. A high-profile mayoral race is on in Portland. In the wake of an Oct. 25 mass shooting in Lewiston, both that city and Auburn are choosing local officials.
Maine routinely reports some of the highest voter turnout in the nation. In 2021, 37 percent of registered voters came out. Absentee voting ahead of the Tuesday election was mostly in line with the totals from two years ago, putting the state on track for a similar figure.
Turnout was looking strong in Lewiston, where more than 2,900 voters requested absentee ballots in hotly contested races for mayor and city council. That was on top of the 1,600 voters who had come out in person across six of the city’s seven wards by noon Tuesday.
Those elections were looking acrimonious in mid-October after a conservative majority on the council stripped outgoing Councilor Linda Scott of her role as president of the body after she criticized members who held a meeting at a bar. A week later, the campaigning virtually stopped after the shooting that killed 18 people and injured 13 others at a bowling alley and bar.
“Perhaps given the Oct. 25 incident, people want to come out and make a decision on who is going to lead the city from this point forward,” City Clerk Kathy Montejo said.
See all the results of the 2023 elections in Maine and how your community voted.
Things looked a little slower in Bangor, where nearly 3,000 voters had requested absentee ballots that way. The polling place at the Cross Insurance Center saw 750 voters by 11 a.m. Tuesday, a figure City Clerk Lisa Goodwin called roughly average for an off-year election.
Question 3 looked to be heading for defeat with a majority of Mainers opposing the utility takeover in an October poll from the University of New Hampshire. Strong majorities were behind two other items on the ballot in the UNH survey, including the foreign electioneering ban in Question 2 and Question 4, which would provide for a vehicle “right to repair.”
The parents of CMP and Versant spent 30 times more than the proponents of the utility referendum during their long public debate over Question 3, which was the top-of-mind subject for voters in Bangor despite local elections in the city.
At the Cross Insurance Center on Tuesday, proponents argued that a new utility would be more responsive to customers and lower rates in the long run, with Reese Perkins, a 63-year-old retired home inspector, saying the profit the utilities take now “is better off here in the state.”
But other voters echoed the lines of the utilities, saying the takeover would be risky and is not guaranteed to improve service or lead to better results.
“My experience with boards is they politicize things,” William Nichols, a literacy education professor at the University of Maine in Orono. “I’m more concerned about the state of the power grid than having a board run things.”
BDN writers Kathleen O’Brien and Jules Walkup contributed to this report. Walkup is a Report for America corps member. Additional support for this reporting is provided by BDN readers.