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Poll Workers Report Low In-Person Turnout For Maine’s Primary Election

Portland voters say they feel safe casting their primary ballots in person, thanks to precautions the city has taken.

At the Troubh Ice Arena only four people were allowed in at one time, there’s Plexiglas between clerks and voters, all workers wore masks and there were markers placed six feet apart on the floor, indicating safe spacing.

Even the pens were single use to avoid spreading the new coronavirus.

Credit Willis Ryder Arnold / Maine Public
Maine Public
Poll workers await voters at the Troubh Ice Arena in Portland Tuesday, July 14, 2020.

Sam Mansfield said he was pleased with the efforts — especially as he was initially anxious to come out.

“Having some reservations about going into a crowded area, especially since I share a household with other housemates who are trying to avoid crowds,” he said. “It felt like there were fewer than 15 people in that building and a lot of space between us, so I feel very comfortable.”

Fewer people than usual are turning out to vote in person in Portland, according to precinct captains. Instead, thousands requested absentee ballots in advance in order to avoid large groups during the pandemic.

Credit Mal Leary / Maine Public
Maine Public
The Augusta Civic Center is nearly empty of voters early Tuesday morning.

But some voters, like Jaye Pelley of Lewiston, decided to cast a ballot in person anyway. "I have my sanitizer, I've been going up to my elbows. I left my phone in the car. I have like a spray in my car, I was very anxious about that, yes.  And it makes me worried that I saw a few people without masks on inside."

Lewiston voter Caroline Pelletier was wearing a face covering as she walked out of a polling booth. She said her husband has a compromised immune system, so she was a little worried about voting in person.

"Just because there's a lot of people that won't wear masks," she said. "I think it's really selfish they won't agree to wear a mask out in public.  I just felt as though I'm doing my part to keep everybody else safe, and also myself safe."

Those who are turning out in person cite different reasons for making the effort. Among them is the Democratic primary, in which voters are choosing a U.S. Senate candidate to face off against Republican incumbent Susan Collins in the fall. In Lewiston, Julia Gatewood cast an enthusiastic vote for Sara Gideon in the contest.  

"Voting is like the most important thing! Honestly, the one thing that I'm holding on to with America," Gatewood said. "I was so excited to vote today - I was so, so, so, excited. I'm a young voter so this is like maybe my third time, so it's very exciting for me."

And in Maine's 2nd Congressional District, Republican voters are choosing a candidate to challenge Democratic incumbent Jared Golden in the general election Nov. 3.

Other voters are motivated by the desire to correct divisiveness in politics.  John Gillis voted today in Portland. He says it might sound cliché, but he's looking to elect officials who will bring people together.

"The state is similar to the nation, in that I just don't think people are working together," Gillis said. "We're getting more divided and not remembering that we're really all in this together."

Voters statewide will also weigh in on two bond issues, totaling $120 million, for broadband internet and transportation infrastructure.

That was enough to motivate Lewiston voter Wanda Smith to get to the polls. Smith said her son is a teacher, and she came to cast her ballot in favor of a bond that would expand high speed internet into underserved areas.

"Those people need internet just as much as we do," she said.

Patty Wight contributed to this story

Updated 1:27 p.m. ET, July 14, 2020.