Maine reported strong voter turnout for statewide referendum questions and local races Tuesday, boosted by a record number of absentee ballots for a referendum-only election.

Official results from the Maine Secretary of State’s Office weren’t available Wednesday, but Secretary of State Shenna Bellows said she was impressed by the preliminary numbers.

“We saw excellent turnout,” Bellows said. “It was exciting to see over 400,000 Mainers participate in this off-year referendum election. It was also exciting to see more than 100,000 Mainers cast an absentee ballot. We saw real voter engagement in a referendum-only election, although it isn’t the highest we’ve ever seen. Mainers should be proud of our tradition of high levels of participation in elections in general.”

Maine has an estimated voting age population of 1,095,370. On Question 1, which asked voters whether they support construction of a controversial transmission line project in western Maine, unofficial results Wednesday showed that 406,406 people had cast ballots with 558 of 571 precincts reporting, or 37 percent of eligible voters.

Turnout for referendum elections over the last 20 years has ranged from a low of 17 percent of eligible voters in 2019 to 55 percent in 2009, when same-sex marriage was on the ballot, according to data from the Secretary of State’s Office.

“I think it is clear there was a significant amount of interest in Question 1 and that drove turnout to be higher than we’ve seen in recent off-year referendum-only elections,” Bellows said. Some local elections such as the special legislative race to fill a seat in House District 86 in Augusta, municipal races in Portland and a referendum on ranked-choice voting in Westbrook also helped draw voters.


Turnout in Portland was around 33.3 percent, based on the number of Portland voters (20,911) who cast ballots on Question 1. Slightly smaller numbers of voters cast ballots in city races. There are 62,780 registered voters in Portland.

Voter turnout in Westbrook was 4,905, or 33 percent of the 15,087 registered voters in the city. Of those who participated, 37 percent voted absentee while 63 percent voted in person, according to an email from Assistant City Administrator and City Clerk Angela Holmes.

Statewide, a record number of absentee ballots for a referendum-only election – 105,156 – had been cast as of 6 p.m. Tuesday. “That’s significant,” Bellows said. “It’s higher than any previous referendum-only election but it’s nowhere near close to 2020.”

The 2020 election, which occurred during some of the worst days of the pandemic and featured a presidential election and a highly competitive U.S. Senate race in Maine, residents cast 828,305 ballots, including 514,429 absentee. In November 2019, 189,093 ballots were cast, including 29,279 absentee ballots, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

In November 2017, a total of 346,831 ballots were cast, including 54,615 absentee ballots.

Tuesday’s numbers indicate that while Mainers still appreciate going to the polls in person, the push for absentee voting during the pandemic may have an enduring impact.

“We know there are reasons why voters who are working full-time or have family and childcare commitments prefer absentee voting,” Bellows said. “The pandemic was the first time that many voters used absentee voting to cast their ballot and clearly some of those folks that were voting absentee for the first time during the pandemic decided to do so again because it’s so convenient and accessible.”

Official results from the election should be available by Nov. 22, the deadline for the Secretary of State’s Office to certify the results.

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