Election clerks around Maine reported slow but steady voter turnout Tuesday driven largely by interest in state ballot Question 3, the Pine Tree Power referendum.

In Portland, strong turnout was driven by the race for a new mayor and a ballot question regarding rent control. A mayoral race in Lewiston lured voters to polls in that city.

Secretary of State Shenna Bellows spent much of Election Day visiting seven polling places. She started her day in Waterboro, and then visited Deering High School in Portland, Lewiston, Bath, Woolwich, Bangor and Orono.

“Slow and steady accurately defines the 2023 election turnout,” Bellows said Tuesday evening as she drove to a polling place in Orono. “My hope is that we will hit 50% (statewide turnout), but that would be surprisingly good.”

In the off-year election in 2021, 37% of voters statewide cast ballots.

Bellows said the statewide referendum questions – there were a total of eight on the ballot – were a big voter draw. She said absentee balloting also reflects solid interest in this election. A total of 112,745 absentee ballots were requested and more than 101,000 had been returned as of Tuesday evening.

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“Maine consistently ranks at the top of the nation in voter turnout,” Bellows said. “We are very proud of that.”

Maine voters turned out at a higher rate than in any other state in the November 2022 election with 61.8% of residents of voting age casting ballots, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. The commission’s survey, which was released in June, is the most comprehensive compilation of voting data from U.S. jurisdictions.

Bellows said she had not heard of any voting glitches or security issues on Tuesday. After meeting in seven locations with municipal clerks and election officials, she described voting as “extremely smooth.”

That seemed to be the case in many polling places.

A steady stream of people flowed in and out of Woodfords Club in Portland on Tuesday night around 6 p.m. Between 7 a.m., when it opened, and 4 p.m., turnout was consistently solid, said Election Warden Geri Rose. After 4 p.m., as the workday ended, a surge of voters arrived. People waited in line for up to 15 minutes, said Rose.

Susan McMillan, election warden at the Reiche Community School in Portland, said voting got off to a slow start, but after lunchtime the pace increased.

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“It’s good to see a strong turnout even in an odd year like this. We’ve been pretty busy,” McMillan said Tuesday night.

Bellows said she won’t know exactly what Tuesday’s turnout was for at least a few more days. Local election officials will have two business days to return their results to the Secretary of State’s Office, which in turn will verify those results before certifying them.

“What’s most important is not that it’s done fast, but that it’s accurate,” she said.

There are 962,000 registered voters in Maine.

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