AUGUSTA — From the top of the ballot to county sheriff races in Maine, candidates or their surrogates made their final pleas for votes Monday in a campaign season that has been among the most divisive in American politics.

The two largely unpopular candidates running for the White House have courted Maine aggressively – especially Republican Donald Trump, who has made five high-profile visits in search of the one electoral vote at stake in northern Maine’s more rural and conservative 2nd Congressional District.

His rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton, has sent movie stars, well-loved retired Maine lawmakers, her primary challenger, Vermont’s Sen. Bernie Sanders, and her daughter to the state to stump on her behalf.

All that attention has galvanized Maine voters, who broke the absentee voting record set in 2012 and are expected to turn out in record numbers at polling places Tuesday to choose a president, two members of Congress and a new Legislature, and to pass judgment on six ballot questions, including on marijuana, gun control and the minimum wage.

On Monday, the pace of politics seemed to reach a crescendo.

Clinton surrogate and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley campaigned for her in Portland, Raymond, Lewiston, Waterville and Bangor. Next door in Manchester and Durham, New Hampshire, crowds packed rallies for Trump and President Obama, respectively.

Meanwhile, Maine’s city and town clerks, who run elections locally, and the state’s top election officials at the Secretary of State’s Office in Augusta were making sure all was in order for what’s expected to be a big day for voters.

But many Maine voters had already cast their ballots, participating in absentee voting by mail or in person at the polls. As of Monday, 263,958 people had requested absentee ballots. That exceeds the record set in 2008, when 244,239 ballots were requested and 238,940 returned. The state has roughly 995,000 registered voters.

VOTER SUPPRESSION COMPLAINTS

Complaints of both voter suppression and voter fraud also were being tossed about Monday as Republican Gov. Paul LePage issued a terse warning to students attending college in Maine, urging them to establish residency if they were going to vote. The statement came a day after someone circulated a flier at Bates College in Lewiston that falsely warned students they would be required to get a Maine driver’s license and register their cars here if they wanted to vote.

Voters line up to cast their ballots at 7 a.m. Tuesday in Falmouth as the polls open on Election Day. Photo by Tux Turkel/Staff Writer

Voters line up to cast their ballots at 7 a.m. Tuesday in Falmouth as the polls open on Election Day. Photo by Tux Turkel/Staff Writer Photo by Tux Turkel/Staff Writer

The ACLU of Maine accused LePage of trying to use “intimidation and harassment” to discourage college students from voting. Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap reiterated that students are not required by law to change their vehicle registrations or driver’s licenses before voting.

Oamshri Amarasingham, advocacy director at the ACLU of Maine, also criticized LePage’s call for more stringent voter identification laws in the state.

“Gov. LePage and others like him crying ‘fraud’ are wrong,” Amarasingham said in a prepared statement. “We have an incredibly strong and secure voting system in Maine. Gov. LePage should be proud that Maine has among the highest voter turnout in the nation. He should encourage more qualified people to participate in the process, not make it harder for them to do so.”

PATIENCE AT THE POLLS URGED

Augusta City Clerk Roberta Fogg said absentee voting appeared to be up in her city this year, but Fogg also was expecting a big turnout at the polls Tuesday. She predicted that about 80 percent of Augusta’s voters would participate in the election, and reminded voters that they can register at the polls and vote on Election Day under Maine law.

She noted that officials at the polls are there to help people cast their ballots successfully, and urged voters to be patient if polling places are busy.

“Please remember that all of our election workers are doing their best to make sure everyone is taken care of, and that we get you through the lines as quickly as possible,” Fogg said. “But there is still a process in place, and we are trying to make sure that we dot all our I’s and cross all our T’s – so there will be lines. Be patient with each other and with the elections staff and we will get you into that voting booth.”

In the northern Maine community of Fort Kent, Town Clerk Angela Coloumbe also was expecting to see more voters than four years ago. Coloumbe said the town had a higher absentee ballot count, with about 420 ballots returned this year compared with 361 in 2012. She said about 2,000 voters took part in the presidential election in Fort Kent in 2012.

“I would suspect we would be higher” this year, Coloumbe said.

She said the town’s poll workers were looking forward to a “fun day” and she wasn’t anticipating any polling place problems.

The political cash being spent on candidates and ballot questions in Maine continued to flow, even as voting day drew closer.

On Friday, the New York City-based Everytown for Gun Safety Political Action Fund contributed another $53,000 to a Maine campaign working to pass Question 3, which would require background checks for private gun sales in Maine. That donation will be spent largely on radio and social media advertising, according to reports at the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices.

PACS SPENT ABOUT $3.4 MILLION

State party political action committees and other PACs also were continuing to spend to support or oppose candidates in races for the Maine Legislature. As of Monday, about $3.4 million in independent expenditures had been reported by these PACs and party committees. The money, which cannot be spent in direct coordination with a candidate’s campaign, went to purchase everything from television and radio advertising to robocalls and polling.

Even Maine first lady Ann LePage was getting in on the act with a pre-recorded phone message for voters urging them to reject ballot Question 2, which would add a 3 percent surcharge on taxable income above $200,000 a year in order to raise additional funds for Maine public schools.