Tuesday, May 21, 2013
AUGUSTA — Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap is predicting a 35 percent voter turnout Tuesday, despite heavy advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate.
Dunlap based his estimate on the number of requests for absentee ballots, which he said has been strong for a referendum election but nowhere near the number of requests during a year with a presidential vote.
And while voters seem to be picking up ballots, they aren't returning them as quickly as he anticipated.
Although people know how they will vote on Question 1, a proposed repeal of the state's gay-marriage law, they are taking more time to learn about the other six ballot questions.
''People are stepping back and taking their time,'' Dunlap said.
He said he didn't expect an early voting pilot program in nine communities across Maine to increase turnout because it is too small a sample size.
Maine is known across the country for high voter turnout in presidential years, when it's not uncommon for 70 percent of the voting-age population in Maine to cast a ballot.
But in off-year elections, when there are no presidential or statewide candidate races, that percentage drops to between 30 percent and 40 percent, said Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn.
This year more than ever, with multiple questions too close to call, getting people to the polls is a high priority for the campaigns.
Gay-marriage supporters worked the phones, knocked on doors and featured Gov. John Baldacci at an event last week. Kevin Gilgan, a No on 1 volunteer from Bangor, said in a written statement that support has been ''absolutely tremendous.''
''We've logged thousands of volunteer hours, and over the next five days we'll log thousands more,'' he said Thursday.
The Rev. Bob Emrich, Yes on 1 campaign spokesman, said they, too, are working the phones.
''We're doing the same things they are, but we don't have a lot of high-powered politicians,'' he said. ''We just have regular people.''
Amy Fried, a political scientist at the University of Maine, said she expects turnout to be higher than Dunlap's prediction, but if turnout is low, just a thousand votes can make a big difference.
''Turnout always matters,'' she said. ''But when you have a low turnout, it matters a little more.''
In general, older voters are more apt to vote in off-year elections than younger voters. That favors the Yes on 1 campaign because polls show older voters are also more likely to oppose gay marriage, Fried said.
Also, because evangelical and Catholic Mainers have been a big part of the campaign, they have a church base to draw from.
On the flip side, No on 1 is well-organized.
''There's been so much of an effort from No on 1 to boost turnout,'' Fried said.
In addition to gay marriage and the so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which would place limits on government spending and require votes on tax and spending increases, there are five other issues on the ballot.
Question 2 is a cut in the motor vehicle excise tax, Question 3 is a repeal of the school district consolidation law, and Question 5 is an expansion of the state's existing medical marijuana law.
Question 6 is a $71.2 million transportation bond, and Question 7 is a constitutional amendment that would give local officials more time to certify signatures on citizen petitions.
Those who support TABOR say they don't have the staff to mobilize a get-out-the-vote effort and that the variety of questions makes it hard to predict turnout.
''For an off-year election, voters have been hit with so many ads on different questions,'' said Tarren Bragdon of the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center. ''Probably by this point, they have made up their mind on whether to go to the polls.''
Crystal Canney, spokeswoman for TABOR critics, said they would be calling people throughout the weekend.