Fear, disgust and hope were among the things that drove Maine voters to the polls Tuesday, and they arrived in large numbers.

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said Tuesday evening that he expected voter turnout between 55 percent and 60 percent. “It’s shaping up to be a very heavy turnout,” he said.

Maine traditionally has one of the highest rates of voter turnout nationally. In the last gubernatorial election in 2010, 56.2 percent of Maine’s eligible voters cast ballots, tops in the nation.

About 5.5 percent of Maine’s nearly 964,000 eligible voters cast ballots before Tuesday, slightly ahead of the early-voting pace in 2010, his office said.

At least five towns – Brooklin, Camden, Mount Desert Island, Rockland and Swans Island – had to change polling places because of power failures caused by the weekend snowstorm. Utility workers were allowed to vote from the field.

Some voters said they cast ballots for Mike Michaud for governor mostly because they feared another four years of Paul LePage, not because they thought Michaud was the best of the three candidates. Others were drawn to the polls to vote for the proposed ban on bear baiting and trapping, spurred by a stream of graphic TV commercials showing brutal treatment of bears. Still others likely voted against the ban after an equally heavy series of ads featuring state biologists warning that the ban would increase conflicts between bears and humans.

Yet there was still a sense of hope, with many saying they felt their vote could make a difference on issues they cared about most. In an informal poll of a couple dozen people Tuesday at polling places in Portland, South Portland and Falmouth, those issues primarily were the governor’s race and bear baiting.

AnnElissa Leveque, a 56-year-old special education teacher from South Portland and an unaffiliated voter, said she was voting for Mike Michaud because Eliot Cutler “doesn’t stand a chance” of beating LePage and because she feels Michaud has more experience in the workings of government.

Leveque arrived at her polling place, the Boys and Girls Club on Broadway in South Portland, at 6:30 a.m. even though the poll didn’t open until 7 a.m.

“I like to be first to vote if I can,” she said. “Most years I’m third.”

Another South Portland voter, musician and music teacher Tom Whitehead, 55, was clear that he was casting a vote for Michaud only because he thought Michaud had the best chance to beat LePage.

“Well, I’m holding my nose and voting for Michaud,” Whitehead said. “Michaud hasn’t impressed me, but I am horrified by LePage.”

By contrast, some voters who favored LePage were certain about it.

At Falmouth High School, Meg Hurdman, 52 and a registered Republican who works at Thos. Moser furniture in Freeport, said LePage has a better plan to grow Maine’s economy.

“I think he’s trying to create a more business-friendly environment,” Hurdman said. She admires what he’s overcome in his life, including being homeless as a child. “I think he does care deeply about people who are less fortunate.”

In Gardiner, Republican Paul Marsella said LePage needs four more years after being “blocked” by Democrats in his first term.

“It has to be LePage, because he really is the one who’s out to do all the right things,” Marsella said.

Several voters talked about casting a vote for Michaud because poll after poll has told them Cutler has no chance.

Jaime Parker, 42, trails manager for Portland Trails and a member of the Green Party, said it was “strange to feel like you have to cast a strategic vote.” Still, that’s what he planned to do by voting for Michaud.

Parker explained why he also signed a petition in favor of allowing people to rank their choices for governor. Proponents say it would cut down on times, like this year, when so many voters say they are voting for the candidate they think can win instead of the one they want to win.

“In Maine, where we have such a tradition of having independent and third-party candidates, this makes sense,” said Parker.

The media also shaped voter moods when it came to the proposal to ban bear baiting and trapping. Several people in Greater Portland who do not hunt said they wanted to vote for the ban because of what they had seen on TV this fall.

Retiree Bonnie O’Brien, 58, of Portland said the bear ads “made me sick.”

But just a few minutes after O’Brien walked in to vote, Paul Ureneck came to the school intent on voting against the ban. Ureneck, 28, works as a mechanic and hunts deer. He said the proposed ban was his main reason for voting.

“I trust our state biologists and game wardens to make these decisions about how to manage the bear population,” Ureneck said. “We can sit and watch the commercials and pass judgment, but they are the ones who are dealing with it.”

With polls declaring front-runners in advance and absentee ballots allowing early voting, the idea of deciding who to vote for on Election Day itself seems like a quaint vestige of the past. Yet there were some Tuesday whose mood at the polling place was one of last-minute indecision.

Jeff Holmstrom, 58, a physician, had narrowed his choice for governor to two, Michaud and LePage. But he arrived at the Boys and Girls Club in South Portland undecided.

“I guess I’ll know in about 30 seconds, when I write it down,” Holmstrom said.

Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

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