Rick Dubuc, left, and Chuck Smith unload a truck full of voting material in 2021 at Longley School in Lewiston. All voting for this year’s mayoral runoff election will take place at Longley on Dec. 12. Absentee ballots became available Thursday. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — The last two times a Lewiston mayoral race went to a runoff, the person who led after the initial election was defeated a month later.

Mayor Carl Sheline is hoping to buck that trend, and challenger Jon Connor believes Tuesday’s result means the majority of voters want a change.

On Thursday, absentee ballots and early voting became available at City Hall, marking the start of a monthlong push until the Dec. 12 runoff. A clerk’s office employee said there had been a “steady stream” of people either voting in person or picking up an absentee ballot Thursday.

According to the City Charter, the mayor must be elected by a majority vote, meaning 50% plus at least one vote. Sheline received 45% of the vote Tuesday.

While Lewiston hasn’t seen a runoff since 2017, some officials say the rising popularity of ranked choice voting in Maine leads to questions about Lewiston’s continued use of a special runoff election, and/or requiring a clear majority vote winner.

Some have argued that the system depresses voter turnout, asking residents to cast ballots within a month of the previous election, and with the runoff being held in December, bad weather and the looming holidays could keep people away.


In 2017, there was an 11% drop in voter turnout between the initial election and the runoff.

City Clerk Kathy Montejo said Thursday that there are “pros and cons” to the runoff election, but that the discussion always arises in Lewiston when a runoff occurs.

“Every time we have a runoff, that question comes up, and because Portland just did it, it’s completely logical to look at the two,” she said.

But, she said, using ranked choice voting on the municipal level is still rare. She estimated only 25 municipalities in the country, including Portland, are using it. One of the reasons, she suspects, is because it’s still expensive. Lewiston’s voting machines don’t have the ability to do the ranked choice tabulation.

She said Portland hires a vendor to conduct the ranked choice tabulation, which took place this week when Mark Dion was eventually determined the winner.

Montejo said she hears some concerns about the turnout and December weather, but she also hears from some voters that they enjoy the runoff, because it narrows down the field and gives them more of an opportunity to learn about and hear from the candidates.



In 2017, there were five candidates for mayor: Ben Chin, Shane Bouchard, Mark Cayer, Ron Potvin and Charles Soule. Chin gained the most votes on Election Day with 4,239. Bouchard was second, with 2,979. While Potvin and Soule didn’t receive many votes, 2,399 people voted for Cayer, ensuring the election would go to a runoff. The election had a 38.7% turnout, which is higher than average, likely because the Lewiston/Auburn merger referendum was held the same night.

A month later, during the runoff, Bouchard beat Chin by 145 votes. The turnout was 27%. At the time, some said the cold, icy weather affected turnout. Others said that’s just how the runoff elections go.

Two years earlier, the same scenario played out. Chin received the most votes in November of 2015 against Robert Macdonald, Steve Morgan, Luke Jensen and Charles Soule. The turnout was 33.5%.

Ben Chin of Lewiston speaks during an event in 2019, where he said he would not be running for mayor. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal file

A month later, Chin lost to Macdonald by 572 votes. This time, however, the turnout was similar, at 32%.

There has not been a runoff since 2017.


In 2019, Mark Cayer won the election over Tim Lajoie without needing a runoff. The same occurred in 2021 when Sheline won his first term over Donna Gillespie. Neither of those elections had more than three candidates.

This year, there were four candidates. Sheline received 3,624 votes, or 45%, compared to 3,041 votes for Connor, 954 for Jensen and 413 for Joshua Pietrowicz. The turnout was 29%.

Sheline said Thursday that the makeup of the 2015 and 2017 races was “very different, and the candidates are very different.”

“Nonetheless, the previous runoffs underscore that you can’t take anything for granted,” he said. “And the past two years have shown that local politics matter, especially in Maine’s second largest city. You can’t stay home, everyone needs to vote.”

On Thursday, Connor said he believes “we have the wind at our back.”

“The incumbent mayor received less than 50% of the vote, which means the majority of Lewiston voters want a new mayor,” he said. “Our campaign has focused on a safer city and better streets, and I’m confident that message will resonate with voters who are looking for more visible leadership and a change from the status quo.”



During Cayer’s term in 2021, the city conducted a charter review process, which ultimately led to the shift to staggered terms for elected officials that began this year.

The final report from the Charter Review Committee said the committee had discussed the possibility of moving to a “plurality election of the mayor” or ranked choice voting, but ultimately did not recommend either.

“During the discussion of potentially adopting ranked choice voting, one member of the committee suggested that we eliminate the current mayoral runoff election and elect the mayor by simple plurality, recognizing that this is the predominate method of electing other officials,” the report said. “The committee did not support this change, recognizing that several recent runoff elections resulted in electing an individual who had lost the plurality vote in the initial election.”

Some members of the committee supported moving to ranked choice, including then-Councilor Alicia Rea, who said, “reducing the number of times we ask our residents to come out to vote in elections is important since we have historically low turnout in the runoff elections we have seen in recent years.”

Ed Barrett, the former longtime Lewiston city administrator who chaired the Charter Review Committee, said that a runoff election and ranked choice “get you to the point where somebody has majority support,” but he said “it all comes down to cost and efficiency.”


“If the cost is reasonable, it might make sense to go to ranked choice to avoid the need for a runoff, particularly when you’re pushing up against the holidays,” he said. “But, at the time we looked at it, it was a question of cost.”

Barrett was city administrator during the 2015 and 2017 runoff elections.

Montejo said she was never invited to speak directly to the committee during its meetings, but may have had informal discussions with Barrett regarding the runoff system.

The Charter Review Committee also recommended that voters decide whether to establish a more in-depth Charter Commission to consider changes to the City Charter. However, a recently sworn-in City Council in 2022 repealed the referendum vote.

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