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A Maine political science professor on what to expect on Election Day

Caution tape closes off a voting stall to help distance voters to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus during Election Day at the East End School, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Portland, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty
AP file
Caution tape closes off a voting stall to help distance voters to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus during Election Day at the East End School, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Portland, Maine.

Election Day is four days from today. Voters will see eight referendum questions on their state ballots.

University of Maine at Farmington political science professor Jim Melcher told Morning Edition host Irwin Gratz what makes referendum elections different is what he calls the lack of a "party cue."

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Melcher: If you know that somebody's a Republican candidate or a Democratic candidate, especially in times like these where things are very polarized, that's very helpful, and it helps drive turnout, because you kind of know, 'OK, I tend to like this party or I don't like that party.' But on a lot of these statewide issues, there isn't necessarily an obvious, 'This is the left side of the question. This is the right side of the question.' And that's one reason why nonpartisan races tend to have lower turnout.

Gratz: The biggest issue is probably Question 3, which is whether to have a new entity, Pine Tree Power, buy out Central Maine Power and Versant. From a strictly campaign point of view, this has been a David versus Goliath battle, hasn't it?

@mainepublic Maine’s referendum election is coming up… so, what is Question 3 really asking Mainers? Political correspondents Steve Mistler and Kevin Miller break is down for you. 🗓️ Election Day is Nov. 7! #mepolitics #election2023 #maine #mainenews #question3 #pinetreepower ♬ original sound - Maine Public

Certainly at our house, the direct mail we've been getting, we've been getting two or three cards a week calling on us to oppose Issue 3. And I don't think the pro Issue 3 people have had nearly as much success getting their message out. The other thing I would say is that, from my experience watching Maine elections, and I've been watching them for a long time, when you get an issue vote, the pro change position tends to lose support over time, that people think originally, 'Oh, that sounds good. I'd like to do that.' And when it actually comes for their hand to vote for change, it's common that people back away. And we've seen this on issue after issue over the years.

In candidate races sometimes we've seen that discrepancies in spending often backfire against the candidate that spends the most amount of money. Might that be at work in this referendum?

Well, it could be. I mean, if it plays out, the idea that it helps build more resentment of Central Maine Power and Versant, particularly CMP, some people might say, 'Gee, they've got all this money to mail flyers out to my house three times a week. Why don't they put that into making things more reliable?' I think it's less likely to happen in an issue race than it would in a race with individuals.

All right, there's another race that features business interests. This is the so-called right to repair referendum, the attempt by independent auto repair shops to access some of the same data dealer service departments get from our computerized vehicles. What have you seen in this campaign?

One of the things that strikes me is we've seen almost nothing against it. Almost all the advertising I've seen, every one of the signs I've seen, are people in favor of this. You know, it seems like almost every auto parts store, every small repair shop I see, has signs for this. And so I don't think the public's really getting much of a sense on this issue, either. In this case, why to vote? Why to vote no?

There are a couple of constitutional questions that are designed to bring the wording of Maine's constitution in line with U.S. Supreme Court rulings. I mean, I guess that means at some level, it won't matter what voters do with these two provisions since they appear to be no longer constitutional or enforceable.

Well, but I mean, you still have a lot of symbolic value of them. Take the case of allowing people under mental guardianship to vote, which Maine is rare in that it puts those kinds of limitations on. So Maine is an outlier. And certainly for a lot of people in the mental health community, they see this as an example of stigma. One of the constitutional issues that seems to have aroused the most interest is Issue 6, this being yet another front where Maine's tribes are feeling, 'This is a place where something was done wrong to us in the past. We want to assert our rights more vigorously.' And nobody really seems to have a very good answer why this written language was removed from printed copies of the state constitution. And I think the average voter will look at that and say, why would you not print a part of the Constitution, even in an era when most people probably read the state constitution online? I think people are going to tend to be very sympathetic to the tribes and I expect, without having seen any polling, that I would favor Issue 6 to pass. I think it's going to win.