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Heavy In-Person Turnout In Maine On Election Day, On Top Of Record Early Voting

Updated 5:05 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 3: 

With the 2020 election season approaching its end, Maine voters look to continue breaking records on Tuesday as unparalleled early voting numbers preceded robust in-person turnout.

The trend was clear right from early morning.

Credit Kevin Bennett / For Maine Public
For Maine Public
An expansive space allowed for uncrowded voting at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor on Tuesday.

“It’s been busier than we thought. I think we’ve had over 600 people vote this morning for about the first hour and a half there was a line all the way around the building,” Falmouth poll worker Maggie Fleming said.

In Skowhegan, it was similarly busy.

“I guess I was just naive, because normally a light staff in the morning can take it, but I needed an extra two or three people, because at one time we just had to many people in the front entry,” said Skowhegan town clerk Gail Pelotte.

“Yeah it was a long ways, a long walk. I had to walk a mile to go vote. If I’d of known it was this bad I probably wouldn’t of voted,” said Waterville voter Bob Chenard who, by the way, did find the patience to wait out the line and get his ballot counted.

Not every voting place was packed, and some reported fairly quiet days. But with more than a half-million votes already returned in Maine by yesterday, and some clerks reporting that they’d received 70 percent of their ballots before they even opened the polls today, it seems clear that an unprecedented turnout is on its way in Maine.

Credit Kevin Bennett / For Maine Public
For Maine Public
A couple compares ballots before depositing them in the ballot machine at the Joseph L. Ferris Community Center in Brewer on Tuesday.

“The fact that we see strong turnout in person. It’s kind of pointing the way. I think it would be fair to describe as historic turnout levels,” said outgoing Secretary of State Matt Dunlap.

Dunlap voted in snowy Old Town this morning before setting out on his traditional Election Day tour of towns and cities around Maine, including a midday stop in Portland.

Credit Fred Bever / Maine Public
Maine Public
Matt Dunlap speaks outside City Hall in Portland on Tuesday.

He said voters responded enthusiastically to the absentee-ballot vote request service his office opened in August. And the municipalities, he added, stepped up to the plate to devise safety protocols to make sure voters and poll workers alike were protected against transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19.

“We’ve had a little help. The governor’s office and Southern Maine Community College came up with the design of the drop boxes that we were able to obtain when the commercial vendors were basically back ordered. And then of course L.L.Bean and Flowfold contributed face masks to use for all the polling workers,” Dunlap said. “So towns have adapted marvelously and the voters have been showing great patience. They’re here to vote, they’re here to run this community and the state and the nation beyond. So things are going pretty well.”

That continued into the afternoon. Anna Kellar, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Maine, said observers the league posted around are reporting that lines in most precincts had eased.

Credit Kevin Bennett / For Maine Public
For Maine Public
An election volunteer assists a voter during registration at the Joseph L. Ferris Community Center in Brewer on Tuesday.

“And we haven’t seen any sign of voter intimidation or any of the more serious types of disruption that folks had worried about,” Kellar said.

Clerks say Election Day logistics were clearly helped by the decision that half of Maine’s registered voters made to get their ballots in early. According to data from Dunlap’s office, nearly half a million ballots had already been cast before Tuesday.

Some who waited until Election Day said they wanted to follow their ballots all the way through the voting machine. But many also said they did so simply because they like voting the old-fashioned way.

“I enjoy the experience of doing it on Election Day. I get why people did it early, I have no issues with that whatsoever. I always have the same routine, get out and have a cup of coffee and go and vote,” said David Dyer, who voted in Belfast.

If you are eligible to vote and haven’t yet, you do still have time to grab some coffee and play a role in this historic election. Maine’s polls are open until 8 p.m.

A Columbia University graduate, Fred began his journalism career as a print reporter in Vermont, then came to Maine Public in 2001 as its political reporter, as well as serving as a host for a variety of Maine Public Radio and Maine Public Television programs. Fred later went on to become news director for New England Public Radio in Western Massachusetts and worked as a freelancer for National Public Radio and a number of regional public radio stations, including WBUR in Boston and NHPR in New Hampshire.