November 8, 2011

Referendums top Maine ballot today

Two gambling questions and a change in the voter registration rules are among the questions.

By Jason Singer jsinger@pressherald.com
Assistant City Editor / Online

PORTLAND — Voters across the state will head to the polls today to decide contentious issues about gambling and same-day voter registration. Locally, voters will choose the city's first publicly elected mayor since 1923.

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Voting registrar Betsy Jo Whitcomb tapes instructions and other notices inside voting booths Monday at Falmouth High School. Falmouth and the rest of Cumberland County will vote today on a $33 million bond issue for civic center repairs.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Elizabeth Boynton, left, and Teresa Bunn separate state and municipal absentee ballots Monday in the State of Maine Room at Portland City Hall. Boynton is a volunteer and Bunn is a vital records clerk for the city of Portland. Similar scenes played out around the state Monday.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

On Monday, many of the 15 Portland mayoral candidates continued to seek support, knocking on residents' doors across the city until darkness set in.

Former state Sen. Michael Brennan, one of the presumed favorites, spent the morning campaigning at the University of Southern Maine and said many voters still hadn't made up their minds. Nearly all of the candidates expressed relief that the campaigning would soon end.

"I'm excited it's almost over," said Mayor Nicholas Mavodones, one of the candidates. "I feel like we've done everything we can."

At City Hall, officials counted absentee ballots in the State of Maine Room. At precincts across the city and state, volunteers and election workers set up voting booths and ballot machines.

Bud Philbrick, elections administrator for Portland, said city voters had submitted about 3,800 absentee ballots. That's down from 7,000 in the 2009 off-year election, which featured a spirited statewide campaign on the gay-marriage issue.

Based on the number of absentee ballots this year, Philbrick predicted 12,000 people would vote in Portland, slightly less than a 25 percent turnout.

That's higher than most off-year elections, which attract 9,000 to 10,000 voters, he said, but down significantly from 2009, which drew 27,423 voters, more than 55 percent of the electorate.

Secretary of State Charlie Summers predicted that about 35 percent of Maine's eligible voters would participate in the statewide referendum balloting.

Question 1 asks voters whether they want to overturn a new law banning same-day voter registration in Maine. Supporters say same-day registration makes the state vulnerable to fraud. Opponents contend that working people don't always have time to make multiple trips to the election office, so the law would limit Mainers' ability to vote in elections.

Maine voters have been able to register and vote on the same day since 1973.

Question 2 asks voters if they will approve racinos – racetracks with slot machines – in Biddeford and Washington County, and Question 3 asks voters to approve a casino for Lewiston.

Question 4 asks voters if they want Maine to complete its next redistricting process in 2021 – like most other states – instead of 2023, three years after the release of fresh U.S. Census data.

It would also make redistricting a constitutional amendment, meaning the Legislature would need a two-thirds vote to pass redistricting, as opposed to the simple majority it now needs.

In Portland, the mayor's race – the first of its kind in 88 years – continued to vie for people's attention Monday. Hamza Haadoow and former state Sen. Ethan Strimling both spent the day contacting supporters to ensure they'd make it to the polls today.

"We feel very good about the number of folks who are supporters," Strimling said. "If we turn out our vote, we'll win the race."

Jed Rathband held a 4 p.m. rally in Congress Square, and the race's lone Republican, Richard Dodge, spent most of Monday working at his commercial real estate job.

Much of the pre-Election Day discussion revolved around ranked-choice voting and its potential difficulty for voters. But a survey released Monday morning said early voters had little problem with ranked-choice ballots.

Of the 122 voters who cast ballots in the mayor's race on Nov. 3, more than 94 percent said they "fully understood" the instructions and how to fill out their ballots, according to the poll by FairVote, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization from Maryland that studies and supports ranked-choice voting.

Voters in Cumberland County also will decide a $33 million bond issue to renovate the Cumberland County Civic Center.

Other issues on the ballot include a Portland City Council District 4 race between longtime incumbent Cheryl Leeman and challenger Ezekiel Callanan, and a number of school-board races in various communities.

In Biddeford, incumbent Mayor Joanne Twomey faces a challenge from former state Rep. Alan Casavant.

 

Staff Writer Jason Singer can be contacted at 791-6437 or at: jsinger@pressherald.com

 

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