While there were long lines to vote early in the morning on Tuesday, Election Day turnout slowed to a steady pace in the afternoon as Mainers weighed in on the presidential race, as well as races for U.S. senator, the state’s two congressional seats, same-sex marriage, bond issues and local races.
Polling places opened at 6 a.m. to handle voter turnout that was expected to hit 70 to 80 percent of registered voters in the state. Maine typically sees turnouts of more than 70 percent, or about 700,000 voters, in presidential election years.
The heavy turnout slowed election results in Portland, where people were still lined up to vote at 8 p.m., when polls closed. Those who were in line by 8 p.m. were allowed to cast a ballot.
In South Portland, turnout was about 81 percent.
Despite the heavy showing at the polls, absentee ballots were down from four years ago. Nearly 197,000 ballots were requested by Nov. 2, and about 182,000 have been returned, according to Megan Sanborn, a spokeswoman with the Secretary of State’s Office. That was down from 2008, when about 240,000 absentee ballots were cast.
Maine officials did not release statewide turnout figures Tuesday night. Sanborn said only that polls were busier than normal in the morning.
In 2008, President Obama took the state with 57.7 percent of the vote, or 421,923 votes, compared to Republican presidential contender John McCain, who received 295,273 votes.
In Portland, at 7:30 a.m., scores of voters stood in long lines that snaked around Woodfords Church. At one point, all four “register to vote here” seats were taken by people filling out forms. The line moved quickly and neighbors greeted each other and made small talk while waiting for about a half hour to vote.
At 9 a.m. at Freeport High School, there was no wait, but parking was in short supply, since school also was in session. The only delays for voters were for those sampling the array of baked goods laid out to support a number of local causes. Volunteers also were taking orders for holiday delivery of wreaths and citrus, selling raffle tickets and surveying residents about recreational needs.
For many voters around the state, the issues that brought them out to the polls were the next president and same-sex marriage.
Allison Walker brought her daughters, 10-year-old Ellie and 8-year-old Sophia, when she went to vote at Scarborough High School, “so they could see the process and hopefully vote when they have the chance,” she said. Both girls had already cast mock ballots in elections at school.
Walker said she was focused on the presidential election and Question 1, which would allow same-sex couples to marry. She voted yes on Question 1. She voted for Mitt Romney because of the state of the economy, she said.
“I don’t think the last four years have shown a lot of progress,” she said. “I don’t see it’s gotten any better.”
Sue Bowker, a small business owner, said she voted for Obama because “Romney scares me.”
“As a woman I feel (Romney) is trying to control my body and my personal space,” she said.
Scarborough resident Ryan O’Leary said he voted yes on Question 1 because “Maine is old-school on a lot of things, but I think this is something we can be in this century with.”
Louise Lawrence, who voted with her husband of 30 years, said she voted no on Question 1 because “the sanctity of marriage needs to be preserved.”
“I think civil unions are perfectly adequate for people who live alternative lifestyles,” she said.
A steady stream of voters – many with young children in tow – headed into the Scarborough High School gym to vote late Tuesday afternoon. Town Clerk Tody Justice said the busiest time for voting was early in the morning, but turnout in Scarborough may be down from the last presidential election.
“It’s not as good as the 2008 turnout, but it’s been steady,” she said.
About 5,400 people requested absentee ballots this year, down from more than 6,200 in 2008, Justice said.
The presidential race and same-sex marriage were of particular interest for John Wipfler, who cast his ballot at the Italian Heritage Center in Portland.
“It’s one of our fundamental responsibilities as citizens,” he said. Wipfler, a 56-year-old CEO of a health care facility, voted for Obama and yes on Question 1.
“Yes. Absolutely yes,” said Wipfler, who is straight. “For me, it’s a fundamental civil rights issue.”
Wipfler said his decision to support Obama was an easy one.
“I think he truly is ultimately more interested in a bipartisan approach to problem solving,” he said.
John Sommer, who describes himself as a rare Republican in Portland, voted for Romney and in support of same-sex marriage.
“I’m not a big fan of Obama. I don’t think he’s made a case for four more years,” he said outside the Italian Heritage Center.
Sommer, who works in software project management, said his vote in the presidential election was more of a vote against Obama than enthusiasm for Romney. Sommer described himself as conservative on fiscal issues but socially liberal. He wishes that more Republicans were of that type.
Sommer, 46, believes positions about same-sex marriage fall largely along generational lines, with younger people having more contact with gay people who are “out” and accepting their sexual orientation as normal.
“I had to vote my conscience. They deserve equal rights,” he said.
In Brunswick, the lengthy lines that had formed at Brunswick Middle School early Tuesday morning thinned out by midday, but voters were still filing in steadily. The presidential race, the same-sex marriage ballot question and the U.S. Senate race were drawing the most attention.
A group of Bowdoin College students, all first-time voters and all from out of state, said they were excited to be able to vote for the first time in a presidential election.
Deion Desir, 18, of New York City, said he chose to vote in Maine rather than cast an absentee ballot in his home state because he thinks his vote will mean more here.
“New York is a pretty blue state, so I don’t think (President Obama) needs my vote as much there,” he said. “But I also wanted to vote for same-sex marriage. I don’t know of anyone who plans to vote no.”
The issue of same-sex marriage comes before Maine voters just three years after residents rejected a gay-marriage law passed by the Legislature. No state has approved same-sex marriage by popular vote.
In Freeport, Jennifer Hayward said she votes every year because it is the best way to make sure the public mood is accurately reflected.
Still, she felt particularly compelled to turn out this year because of the gay marriage initiative.
“I feel equality is a huge issue,” Hayward said. “The church is separated from state and we either have to separate marriage from state or have marriage equality.”
By Tuesday evening, turnout at some polling places rose as people getting off work lined up to vote.
Keith Herrick, a campaign aide for Jon Courtney’s run for Congress, said he’d seen heavy turnout at several polling places across the state, but especially Windham.
“There are 500 people standing outside of Windham right now,” Herrick said at 6:30 p.m. at Windham High School. “The line is unbelievable.”
Christina Peaco, a 19-year-old college student, voted for the first time Tuesday in Scarborough. She said she looked closely at each candidate’s stance on environmental issues. She did not disclose which candidates she voted for.
“I’m definitely voting for the future,” she said. “It feels like a lot of responsibility. Even though you’re only one person voting, you can contribute to the outcome.”