Higher-than-expected turnout among registered Democrats in Maine led to a ballot shortage in some communities, a long night for local election officials, and a delayed and unexpected win for former Vice President Joe Biden.

The Associated Press didn’t declare Biden the winner until shortly after 2 p.m. Wednesday, 18 hours after the polls closed. With 98 percent of precincts reporting by late Wednesday, Biden had 68,396 votes (35 percent) compared to 65,894 votes (34 percent) for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Maine Democratic Party Chairwoman Kathleen Marra called the high turnout a “problem of abundance.”

“It’s been 20 years since we had a presidential primary, so we didn’t know what to expect, but this went above and beyond,” Marra said Wednesday.

Although some towns had not reported official results well into Wednesday morning, the state was on pace to see over 200,000 Democratic ballots cast – nearly 60 percent of all registered Democrats – in the presidential primary. During the 2016 cycle, 48,000 Democrats participated, although that was before Maine switched from a caucus to a primary.

It’s too early to tell how many of Tuesday’s voters were first-time registrants or previously unenrolled voters who switched in order to vote in the primary. Either way, the numbers were high.


Kristen Muszynski, spokeswoman for the Maine Secretary of State’s Office, said the turnout was surprising and led to a few issues but nothing significant.

“Anecdotally, we were hearing a lot of people observing lines out the door for registrations,” she said. “We’re happy to see such great participation.”

It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, but the two most recent primaries during which Democrats voted in high numbers were in June 2010 and June 2018, when they chose nominees for governor. In 2010, 122,936 Democrats voted, about 38 percent of all registered Democrats. In 2018, 132,250 cast ballots, which also represented 38 percent turnout.

University of Maine political scientist Mark Brewer said high turnout among Democrats was likely a combination of excitement for candidates and fear of a possible second term for President Trump.

“We can’t tell where levels of enthusiasm are among Republicans, so I’m not sure you can call it an enthusiasm gap yet,” he said. “But if I’m a Democrat and thinking, ‘What do I take out of this for November?’ I think it shows a party that’s very motivated to turn out and vote, and why they turn out doesn’t really matter.”

Sanders won Maine four years ago and seemed poised to repeat this time.


Biden had no organization here, so his showing was a surprise and likely was buoyed by the exits of South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar days before the vote.

No matter who wins, Sanders and Biden will split Maine’s delegates – Biden may end up with one extra – with two going to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who was in third place with 16 percent support.

The results in Maine were overshadowed by results from more populous states on Super Tuesday. Biden’s sweep of the south, including Texas, pushed him into front-runner status, but Sanders’ success in delegate-rich California and other states kept him close.

Muszynski said results in some Maine communities could be delayed if they requested permission to photocopy ballots if they ran out. Copied ballots cannot be inserted into machines and must be counted by hand.

“We will not have a full listing of municipal requests to photocopy ballots for at least a few days, if not longer, as part of our official results,” she said. “Elections staff estimate that we received at least 100 calls seeking this permission, but not all of them actually needed to copy; several called in just to be prepared, with the expectation that they may run out.”

Marra said there’s no question more Democrats came out Tuesday than in any of the last several presidential election cycles, when Maine held caucuses instead of primaries. Lawmakers voted last year to switch to a primary system as a way to encourage more involvement.


Marra said the party will still convene caucuses across the state this Sunday to harness volunteers and retain whatever momentum was built Tuesday. She said the next big election for Democrats will be in June, when they choose between four candidates who are hoping to take on incumbent Sen. Susan Collins.

“Maine Democrats want Trump to be a one-term president, but they are also focused on flipping the Senate,” she said. “I’m not sure we’ve ever been in a position like this before where that seat could be so critical. As long as Mitch McConnell is a leader in Senate, that’s a priority, too.”

Historically, unenrolled voters are the biggest bloc in Maine, hovering between 35-40 percent. Registered Democrats typically outnumber Republicans by at least 5 percent.

As of last November, the most recent statewide data available from the Secretary of State, there were a total of 1,048,279 active registered voters – 347,948 Democrats (33 percent), 285,627 Republicans (27 percent), and 371,305 unenrolled voters (35 percent).

Those percentages are virtually unchanged from 10 years ago.

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