November 3, 2013

How Maine towns stack up at the voting booth

Which towns have the best turnout, or have the most Republicans or Democrats? The results are finally in.

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Kennebunkport Town Clerk April Dufoe does everything she can to encourage voting in her town. And it shows.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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There’s no doubt Dufoe is doing her part to reinstill that attitude.

She put a sign outside the fire station – “VOTE HERE TUES” – on Wednesday, the first day she could do it without causing confusion. Sample ballots were posted at the library and the post office. She sent out a newsletter. She updated the town website.

“I want to make sure everyone has their say,” she said.

LIMESTONE: LOWEST VOTER TURNOUT

Patsy Poitras remembers a time when hundreds of residents would pack into the Limestone High School auditorium for the annual town meeting in June.

As the size of the crowd dwindled over the years, she said, the scattered attendees had to be asked to move to the front rows.

“It’s pretty obvious,” said Poitras, 59, about the increase in apathy in the Aroostook County town.

But she wouldn’t expect Limestone to have the lowest voter turnout in the state. Only 51 percent of registered voters went to the polls last year to pick a president. Half as many cast ballots in 2011 – a lower percentage than any other Maine town with more than 1,000 registered voters.

Come to think of it, Poitras doesn’t remember the last time she waited in line to get into a voting booth.

“You’re in, you’re out,” she said about going to the polls on Election Day.

Town Clerk Marlene Durepo has noticed a similar trend. The local political parties were once “quite active,” she said. She couldn’t tell you who the committee chairmen are now.

But she doesn’t think the poor turnout rate can be blamed solely on ennui.

Since the closure of Loring Air Force Base in 1994, many people have left town but may not have been taken off the rolls. In addition to them are the students at Loring Job Corps, an educational and career training program on the redeveloped base, where young adults typically spend a couple of years and then take off.

If they register in another Maine town, Durepo is notified.

“If they go home to Connecticut, or wherever, I have no way of knowing,” she said.

Still, there’s been a noticeable shift in attitude, Poitras said. Voters’ passivity is palpable.

“A lot of people complain about taxes being high and what not, but when it’s voting time, they don’t go vote,” she said. “They pretty much say, ‘Well, it wouldn’t matter.’ ”

GRAND ISLE: MOST DEMOCRATIC

Troy Jackson remembers hearing a story about Grand Isle when he first ran for the Maine Senate six years ago.

The rule for hand-counting ballots was that the two clerks couldn’t be affiliated with the same political party. The problem was they couldn’t find a Republican to do it. So someone had to volunteer to enroll in the GOP.

Jackson, D-Allagash, who represents the St. John Valley town, said he politely pointed out that simply unenrolling would have sufficed.

But that wouldn’t have made as good a story.

Among Grand Isle’s 306 registered voters, Democrats number 208, or 68 percent, the largest proportion of any Maine town – followed by Frenchville and Madawaska, nearby towns along the Canadian border.

Lynn Beaulieu, who runs a hair salon out of her house by the river, said she thinks of party affiliation as a hereditary trait, passed down through generations. And almost every family in Grand Isle goes back several of them.

“Your parents were Democrats; it’s just assumed you would be a Democrat,” she said.

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