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Trump, Biden win party primaries in Maine amid low voter turnout

A sign directing voters stands outside a polling station at Merrill Auditorium located next to Portland City Hall on Super Tuesday
Nick Song
/
Maine Public
A sign directing voters outside a polling station at Merrill Auditorium located next to Portland City Hall on Super Tuesday.

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump handily won their respective primaries in Maine on Super Tuesday, picking up dozens of delegates from the state as the two candidates drew closer to clinching their parties’ nominations.

Voter turnout was relatively low across Maine, which was one of more than a dozen states participating in the single-largest primary and caucus day of the 2024 presidential elections. The Associated Press called the Democratic contest for Biden and the Republican primary for Trump about half an hour after polls closed at 8 p.m.

Voting results were expected to continue to trickle in late-Tuesday into Wednesday morning. But just after midnight, with roughly three-quarters of precincts reporting, Trump’s lead over Nikki Haley was holding steady at 72% to 26%, according to unofficial results compiled by the AP.

Haley, who is a former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador, is Trump’s only remaining challenger for the GOP nomination. She has only won one nominating contest — in Washington, D.C. — but had pledged to stay in the race through Super Tuesday.

On the Democratic side, incomplete results showed Biden winning 93% percent of the vote in a primary that featured only one other candidate, Minnesota Congressman Dean Phillips.

Local and state election officials reported relatively low turnout in Maine compared to years with more competitive contests for the major-party nominations.

"Mainers should be very proud — it was another free, safe and secure election," Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, a Democrat, said shortly after the polls closed. "Turnout was very low. We'll get the numbers later this evening ... We started the day in Yarmouth at 6 a.m., closing out the evening in Bangor. And everywhere that we went, turnout was pretty calm."

There were 20 Republican delegates from Maine at stake on Tuesday and 32 Democratic delegates.

Altogether, roughly one-third of the delegates needed to clinch the two parties’ nominations were up for grabs on Tuesday. Biden and Trump won or appeared on track to win most of the other Super Tuesday states, although neither could clinch the nominations after Tuesday.

In 2020, Biden won 53% of the statewide vote while Trump won 44% during the general election. But Trump managed to pick up one of Maine’s four Electoral College votes by winning the majority of voters in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District.

Semi-open primary

This was the first year that Maine began using a “semi-open primary” system for the presidential nominating contest. In a semi-open primary, unenrolled or independent voters can cast a ballot in one primary without having to join the party.

Early indications were that relatively few unenrolled or independent voters opted to avail themselves of the new rules.

Absentee balloting has become an increasingly popular way to vote in Maine in recent years, so requests for ballots is one way to gauge voter enthusiasm headed into Election Day.

According to data from the secretary of state’s office, roughly 36,000 voters requested absentee ballots headed into Tuesday, which is a tiny percentage of the more than 900,000 active voters in the state. Unenrolled voters accounted for roughly 5,100 of those requests for absentee ballots.

Trump win follows ballot access fight

Maine’s primary contest drew relatively little attention from candidates in either party. Haley was the only major candidate to campaign in the state, holding a rally in Portland on Sunday that drew about 500 people.

That rally and endorsements from some prominent Mainers, such as Republican Sen. Susan Collins, were not enough to lift her above Trump, however.

Maine Republican Party Chairman Joel Stetkis said Tuesday night that Tuesday’s results were about what he expected.

“Looking at what has gone on across the country and what has gone on tonight in a lot of other states, it’s pretty similar,” Stetkis said. “I wouldn’t have imagined Maine would have been much different, especially after talking to my friends and my neighbors and the folks who were excited to get out and vote for Donald Trump.”

There were questions several months ago whether Trump would even be on Maine’s ballot.

Bellows ruled in December that the former president was ineligible to participate in the primary because of his attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 elections and his perceived role in the riots at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Bellows’ decision followed a nearly identical ruling by Colorado’s Supreme Court, also based on an interpretation of the insurrection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

But Bellows suspended enforcement of her ruling — thereby keeping Trump’s name on the ballot — while the appeals process played out. She then rescinded her decision on Monday after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Colorado and other states do not have the authority to remove presidential or other federal candidates from the ballot.

“Overall I’m pretty happy that Mainers actually had the ability to vote for the candidates of their choice despite the unconstitutional political games that Democrats and Shenna Bellows played,” Stetkis said.

The ballot also featured the names of three other candidates — Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy and Ryan Binkley — who withdrew from the race before Tuesday.

Biden glides to victory

Some recent polling has shown Biden trailing Trump among Maine voters while other polls have shown that many Democrats question his physical fitness and mental acuity.

But on Tuesday, he trounced Phillips, who has yet to make any headway against Biden in the primary season.

Maine Democratic Party Chairwoman Bev Uhlenhake said Tuesday night that she was excited to work toward the November elections. Forecasting the Democrats’ likely focus headed into the fall, Uhlenhake said the Biden administration has helped add thousands of jobs to Maine’s economy, invested in infrastructure projects and helped lower prescription drugs costs for older residents.

She also wasn’t reading too much into Tuesday’s low turnout.

“I think people will come out in November,” Uhlenhake said. “I think today was, for a lot of people, they felt it was a forgone conclusion ... so I don’t read that much into it. I think folks will come out in November. I think folks know what is at play in November. We’ve got to defend democracy.”