Turnout was steady today as voters in Greater Portland came to cast ballots on statewide issues involving gambling, same-day voter registration, and deciding whether to fund improvements at the county’s aging civic center. Portland voters also were choosing their first publicly elected mayor in 88 years.

‘I feel like my voice was heard’

Activity was high at the Cape Elizabeth High School polling station.

Ned Melanson, a Cape Elizabeth High senior, turned 18 last month. That gave him an opportunity to leave his AP Government class this morning to go to the gymnasium, register and cast his first ballot.

“I feel like my voice was heard,” Melanson said between bites of pasta salad as he used his lunch period to help fellow seniors Emily Muscat and Sasha Lennon do exit polling for their class.

Having used same-day voter registration, Melanson wanted to protect its continued use and said he voted yes on Question 1.

“We should be doing everything we can to increase turnout,” he said. “Being able to register on the same day really helps.”

Maria Gallace, 49, of Cape Elizabeth realized as she was filling out an exit survey that she failed to vote on a bond issue for improvements to the Cumberland County Civic Center. That referendum question, only for Cumberland County residents, was printed on the back side of her ballot.

“A lot of people are going to miss that,” she said. “Even though they told me, I forgot to flip it over.”

Uncontested races surprise new Cape resident

Michael Beaudoin, 69, warmed up for his first vote as a Cape Elizabeth resident with a morning jog. He trotted up at the high school wearing running shoes, black shorts and a long-sleeved white 2007 Maine Marathon shirt, and carrying his wife’s absentee ballot.

“I often incorporate a run into my errands,” said the bearded Beaudoin, who had also stopped at Thomas Memorial Library before voting and planned to run 5 kilometers after filling out his ballot.

“I lived in Portland for 15 years,” he said. “I had the impression that Cape Elizabeth people are pretty civic-minded here, but I was very surprised and frankly disappointed to see all the candidates for elected offices in Cape Elizabeth are running unopposed.”

Indeed, two town council seats and three school board positions drew exactly that many candidates.

Heritage Center ‘busiest we’ve been’

At the Italian Heritage Center in Portland, voters were lined up a half-hour before the polls opened at 7 a.m., and have been coming in steadily ever since, according to Warden Rebecca Johnson.

“Other than a presidential race, this is probably the busiest we’ve been,” said Johnson, who has served as a warden for more than 20 years.

Linda Atkinson, 64, said she’s voted in every election since she turned 18. While she would have gone to the polls in any case, the mayoral race was a particular draw, she said.

Atkinson, a retired corporate trainer, is ambivalent about the ranked-choice voting system. She thinks it might be a good method when there are a few contenders but found it confusing with the large number of mayoral candidates.

“I voted for Nick (Mavadones) and Ethan (Strimling) and Jed (Rathband) and Mike Brennan because I know all four of them. I think it was in that order,” she said. “I think they’re all good honest men who would do a good job if one of them wins.”

Mavadones said he spends Election Day at this precint because it is traditionally the busiest.

He said constituents often brought up ranked-choice voting while he was campaigning. Some said they supported the concept of an elected mayor, but didn’t realize the office would be filled through this method, he said.

“A lot of people say it’s confusing,” he said.

Camaraderie among candidates

Around noon, Munjoy Hill residents Kris Johnsen, 26, and Jess Hovey, 28, made their way down North Street to vote at the East End Community School.

Although Hovey insisted that “everything (on the ballot) is important,” she was particularly interested in voting against Questions 2 and 3, which would allow gambling at facilities in Biddeford, Calais and Lewiston.

“I think there are better ways to go about job creation,” she said.

Johnsen, who had yet to register to vote, wanted to lend his support to Question 1, which involves same-day registration.

Inside the entrance to the school, Portland mayoral candidate David Marshall was glued to his cellphone, looking up only to thank voters for coming out to the polls.

“I’m texting everyone I know,” said Marshall, who was reminding his friends to vote, specifically for him.

Outside the entrance, one of his opponents, Markos Miller, shook hands with voters as they walked through the door. He said there’s more camaraderie than tension among the mayoral candidates, and that goes for his relationship with Marshall.

“Dave and I are buddies,” Miller said. “I’m not sure why he’s sitting inside. It’s a beautiful day out.”

Weather helps turnout

Sunshine and near-record temperatures made for a perfect voting day.

“We had a line before we opened, it was great,” said Carol Morrissette, the warden at the Merrill Auditorium polling station.

More than 75 people had cast ballots before 8:30 a.m. City officials have been predicting a 25 percent turnout for this off-year election, or roughly 12,000 voters.

In statewide matters, Question 1 asks voters whether they want to overturn a new law banning same-day voter registration. Question 2 asks voters to approve racinos in Biddeford and Washington County. Question 3 seeks approval of a casino in Lewiston. Question 4 deals with an issue related to the redistricting process.

Cumberland County voters also are being asked to decide on a $33 million bond issue to renovate the civic center.

A draw in Portland was the crowded field of 15 mayoral candidates.

The chance to elect a mayor helped bring out Evan Carroll and Sasha Salzberg. Carroll also noted the casino/racino questions.

“Opposing them was important for me, too,” he said.

Supporters of Jed Rathband, Markos Miller and David Marshall greeted voters walking into the auditorium entrance on Myrtle Street. Following some complaints by voters, Morrissette reminded the candidate’s supporters that they had a right to be at the polls, but to respect people who didn’t want to be approached.

“They kind of feel like they’re going through a gauntlet,” she said.

‘I actually agree with the governor’

The Woodfords Congregational Church polling place was busy in the early morning hours, as voters stopped by on their way to work. Most of the roughly two dozen voting booths were full at about 8:15 a.m.

Outside, a half-dozen people supporting various mayoral candidates were greeting voters as they entered, and thanking them for voting as they left.

Scott Patterson, a data analyst in Portland, said he was voting against the two gambling measures.

“I can’t believe it, but I actually agree with the governor on this. I don’t think we can support five casinos,” said Patterson, as he locked up his bicycle on the way in to vote at the polling station at Woodfords Congregational Church in Portland. “I don’t think we can support five casinos.”

Patterson’s comments reflected an opinion voiced last week by Gov. Paul LePage, who said he didn’t see how the state had enough people to support all the proposals.

But Patterson said it was more than just a matter of Maine being able to support a certain number of casinos; he is generally opposed to gambling in general.

“In order for them to make money, people have to lose money,” Patterson said. “That’s scary. In this economy, who can afford to lose money?”

Question 1 motivates voter

In South Portland, the ballot question regarding same-day voter registration was one of the reasons  Ann Carman went to the polls this morning.

Carman, a retired teacher, said she thought people ought to be able to register and vote on the same day. If same-day registration is not allowed, Carman thinks it will hurt voter turnout.

“People have jobs, and they’re busy, so I don’t think their ability to vote should be hindered in any way,” said Carman, 73, standing outside the Boys & Girls Club on Broadway around 9 a.m. “If people have to get a ride to register, then another ride to the polls, they might not be able to vote.”