With no state or federal candidates on the ballot this fall, mayoral races in cities like Portland and Biddeford are driving voter turnout in southern Maine.

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap has predicted a light turnout of 10 to 20 percent across Maine. By comparison, Maine reported more than 70 percent turnout in the last presidential election year. In additional to municipal offices, voters will also decide two statewide referendum questions.

A steady stream of voters came through the polls at the Westbrook Community Center late Tuesday morning. Dunlap, stopping in the city as part of a tour of statewide polling places, noted turnout there was better than a few other towns and cities he’d visited.

“This is about as high was we’ve seen it anywhere,” Dunlap said.

Labrador mix Andy waits patiently while caretaker Ron Foley fills out his ballot at the Merrill Auditorium rehearsal space adjacent to City Hall on Tuesday morning. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Local turnout will be heavier in communities with competitive mayoral and council races, such as Westbrook, where there is a four-way mayoral contest, Biddeford, Portland, Bangor and Lewiston, Dunlap said. In other places, referendums on recreational marijuana and other local issues might pull people to the polls.

“That is what is going to drive interest,” he said. Although a transportation bond and an amendment to the constitution on the state ballot, those issues are unlikely to bring crowds the way state and national candidates do, Dunlap added.

“There is no real get-out-the-vote effort behind those,” he said.

In Portland, where voters will choose from four candidates in a record-setting mayoral race, turnout is also expected to be on the high end. The City Clerk has predicted at least 32 percent turnout, the same as the last time residents elected a mayor in 2015. Maine’s largest city is the only one to use ranked-choice voting, which allows residents to rank their candidates in order of preference.

Turnout was light in the first hour of Election Day at the Portland Exposition Building, where roughly 100 people cast ballots before 8 a.m. State records show that district had more than 1,300 registered voters as of this spring.

But Portland residents who trickled out of the building with their “I Voted Today!” stickers said they felt like this election is an important one.

“I absolutely love this city,” said Sara Corbett, who has lived in Portland for more than two decades. “I really value the community. It feels like we’re at an inflection point about how we want to grow.”

Nicole Ivins brought her one-year-old daughter Metta to the ballot box for the first time Tuesday. Her family has lived in Portland for roughly a year, and she said she has been concerned to see the amount of money spent in the competitive mayoral race.

Ivins also said Portland is at “a transition point.”

“We moved from Boston, which is a great city but is becoming unlivable for a lot of folks,” Ivins said.

Annie Leahy and Mike Carey came to the polls together. They have lived in Portland for more than 20 years. Carey said he likes the option of ranked-choice voting, which has been used in the city’s mayoral elections since 2011.

Leahy said she wants Portland to be a leader in the area of affordable housing.

“When you see small businesses struggling to hire and maintain staff, there’s a direct tie-in to affordable housing,” Leahy said.

Biddeford, Saco, Westbrook, Lewiston and Auburn will also vote on their mayors today. Other municipal and school board races will be decided across the state. And the statewide ballot includes a transportation bond and a constitutional amendment.

Biddeford City Clerk Carmen Morris said there was a small line when voting opened at 7 a.m. Turnout had been steady since then, and by noon, more than 1,500 people had cast ballots at the high school. Morris said there are roughly 14,800 voters in Biddeford, so those numbers represent more than 10 percent turnout. Morris expected the final count to be better than the state average because residents votes for their mayor and all of their city councilors at the same time.

“The mayoral race is the hot one,” she said.

Voters walked quickly in and out of the gymnasium through the intermittent rain. Jacob Rudolph, who moved to Biddeford from Portland last year, said his major concerned related to parking and the future uses of the downtown mill buildings. But he said he also just wanted to exercise his right to vote, no matter what or who is on the ballot.

“I feel like not voting is a shame,” Rudolph, 27, said.

The bond question asks for voter approval to borrow $105 million for the state’s transportation infrastructure, including $80 million for road and bridge construction, $20 million for ports, harbors, airports, railroads, public transit and bicycle and pedestrian trails, $1 million to improve the pier at Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, and $5 million to upgrade municipal culverts.

The other question on the state ballot would change the Maine Constitution to make it easier for people with disabilities to take part in citizen petition drives. If passed, voters who have physical disabilities would be allowed to use an alternative method of signing a petition, such as using a signature stamp or authorizing another Maine-registered voter to sign on the their behalf.

Voting begins Tuesday at various times depending on the community, but polls open at 7 or 8 a.m. in the vast majority of cities and towns. All Maine polls will close at 8 p.m.

Maine residents 18 and older can still register to vote, even on Election Day.

Staff Writer Peter McGuire contributed to this story.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.