Voter turnout was unusually light Tuesday, with only about one in 10 registered voters casting ballots in many Maine towns. But the lack of interest in the primary election is not expected to carry over into November, when election officials predict that voters will flock to the polls in huge numbers.

Turnout for the primaries – which in many towns and cities consisted only of uncontested races – was expected to be 12 percent to 15 percent of registered voters statewide, with higher turnout in York and Cumberland counties where the bulk of contested legislative races were held, said Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap. But even in some communities with contested primaries, turnout hovered around 10 percent, according to city and town clerks.

“People do believe in democracy and believe that their vote does count,” Dunlap said. “That being said, because there is a light fight ticket this year on the primary ballot, many people hadn’t seen campaign ads, they hadn’t seen the signs or haven’t paid much attention to them and did not even realize that Tuesday was primary Election Day.”

The Secretary of State’s Office won’t have official statewide turnout numbers until early next month, but Dunlap said the highest voter turnout is typically during presidential elections, with an average 70 percent of voters casting ballots. He said a gubernatorial election typically draws 55 to 60 percent, but turnout drops significantly for other elections.

Dunlap said a 13 percent statewide turnout is “fairly typical” in off-year elections with just referendum questions and “20 percent seems to be the ceiling around uncontested referendum elections where there’s not candidate elections on the ballot.”

“So this fall will probably be one of our busier election cycles because we have the five citizens’ initiatives, two bond questions, the presidential race, the congressional race and all the legislative and county races as well, not to mention local referendums, which oftentimes are the number one driver in really bringing people out,” Dunlap said.

In Portland, where Democrats on Tuesday cast ballots in hotly contested senate primary races, 5,263 of the city’s 54,121 registered voters went to the polls. That 9.7 percent turnout is about average for June elections that include primary races or referendums, said City Clerk Katherine Jones. In 2014, nearly 10,000 residents voted in a June referendum related to Congress Square Plaza. In 2010, voter turnout was especially high – about 13,477 residents voted – when the Democratic gubernatorial primary included five candidates.

Jones said she is already anticipating long lines for the November presidential election. She plans to put out notices before the election encouraging voters to cast absentee ballots to avoid long lines on Election Day.

In South Portland, only 7 percent of registered voters went to the polls Tuesday. On the ballot was a school budget vote, as well as contested races for the Republican nominee in the 1st Congressional District and for the Democratic nominee for Cumberland County register of probate. Town Clerk Emily Carrington said 1,118 of 19,170 registered voters cast ballots Tuesday. Turnout for June elections in 2012 and 2014 was similar.

“We have a very large voter base,” Carrington said. “It’s concerning to me to see these low turnouts.”

South Portland has an average voter turnout for gubernatorial elections of 57 to 65 percent, Carrington said. She is currently taking feedback from residents on how to improve voter turnout in the city, especially for June votes. The city advertises elections in newspapers, on public access TV and discusses them during city council meetings.

“I don’t know what else can be done to get voters to pay attention to this and realize these are also important issues,” she said.

In Biddeford and Saco, Democrats voted Tuesday in Senate primary races that featured well-known politicians. Those races, coupled with local school budget votes, resulted in an 11.65 percent turnout in Biddeford and 11.3 percent in Saco among voters enrolled in a party. Unenrolled voters also cast ballots in the Saco school budget referendum, which had a 15.52 percent voter turnout. The turnouts are typical for both cities during primary elections, according to recent election results.

In Freeport, where residents voted Tuesday to ban plastic shopping bags, about 20 percent of residents – roughly 1,300 people – showed up to vote. Town Clerk Christine Wolfe said that turnout is fairly low for a town that normally sees an almost 100 percent voter turnout for presidential elections.

“The presidential elections are insane,” she said. “It’s funny that (voters) don’t care in June, but it’s always busy in November.”

 


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