Next week, Maine voters will decide whether to borrow $120 million between two infrastructure bond questions. But with the pandemic underway, and its resulting economic recession, it’s not yet clear how many of them will cast a ballot.
Jim Melcher, a political science professor at the University of Maine at Farmington, has analyzed Maine bond votes for decades. He says normally, he would have little doubt that both bonds would pass.
“It’s been a long, long time since anything lost in a bond election that was held outside of November,” he says.
Melcher says bond questions on their own do not generate the same level of interest as referendums or candidates’ elections. He says most voters are worried about the COVID-19 pandemic and the its effect on the economy, and that could mean fewer voters participate.
“The one thing that goes against that is you got important contested primaries in both parties for Congress. If it were just the bond election, I think people wouldn’t show up as much, they wouldn’t be as focused,” he says.
Melcher says it’s clear from the number of absentee ballots requested that many plan to vote remotely to avoid potential exposure to the coronavirus. So far, over 165,000 Mainers have requested absentee ballots, nearly the same number as in the fall 2018 election, when voters decided on U.S. House and Senate races as well as Maine governor.
The bond campaigns are taking note.
“It’s really an unprecedented election in an unprecedented time. So what we have really focused on in our campaign is making sure, as many as we can reach, that there is an election,” says David Farmer, a consultant for the $15 million broadband bond campaign.
Farmer says supporters of the broadband bond have made extensive use of social media and mailings to reach voters. He says many Maine voters are now aware of Maine’s lack of high-speed internet access after months of working from home and experiencing internet connectivity problems.
Supporters of the $105 million transportation bond are also using social media to inform voters of the bond and its importance.
“There is so much uncertainty about everything, but I’m hopeful that because the interest rates are so low and the need is so high and that a lot of these projects are built or improved to last some decades that people will see this as a good deal,” says Maria Fuentes, executive director of the Maine Better Transportation Association.
Supporters of both bonds are also highlighting the matching federal and private funds the bonds will leverage that will help the economy.