November 7, 2012

Long lines slow to steady pace as Mainers turn out

BY JESSICA HALL

BY JESSICA HALL

Portland Press Herald

While there were long lines to vote early Tuesday morning, Election Day turnout slowed to a steady pace in the afternoon as Mainers weighed in on the presidential race, a race for U.S. Senate, the state's two congressional seats, same-sex marriage, bond issues and local races.

Polling places opened as early as 6 a.m. to handle voter turnout that was expected to hit 70 to 80 percent of registered voters in the state.

Maine typically gets turnouts of more than 70 percent -- more than 700,000 voters -- in presidential election years.

Maine officials did not release statewide turnout figures Tuesday night. Megan Sanborn, a spokeswoman in the secretary of state's office, said only that polls were busier than normal in the morning.

Absentee voting was down from four years ago. Nearly 197,000 ballots were requested by Nov. 2, and about 182,000 were returned, said Sanborn. That was down from 2008, when about 240,000 absentee ballots were cast.

In Portland at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, scores of voters stood in lines that snaked around Woodfords Congregational Church. At one point, all four "register to vote here" seats were taken by people filling out forms.

The line moved quickly and neighbors greeted each other and made small talk while waiting for about a half-hour to vote.

At 9 a.m. at Freeport High School, there was no wait to vote but parking spaces were scarce, since school was in session. The only delays for voters were to sample the baked goods that were offered to support local causes.

Volunteers also took orders for holiday delivery of wreaths and citrus fruit, sold raffle tickets and surveyed residents about their recreational needs.

The issues that got many Mainers to the polls were the next president and same-sex marriage.

Allison Walker brought her daughters, 10-year-old Ellie and 8-year-old Sophia, when she voted at Scarborough High School "so they could see the process and hopefully vote when they have the chance," she said. Both girls cast ballots in mock elections at school.

Walker said she was focused on the presidential election and Question 1 on Maine's ballot, which would allow same-sex couples to marry. She voted yes on Question 1. She voted for Mitt Romney because of the state of the economy, she said.

"I don't think the last four years have shown a lot of progress," she said. "I don't see it's gotten any better."

Sue Bowker, a small-business owner, said she voted for President Barack Obama because "Romney scares me."

"As a woman, I feel (Romney) is trying to control my body and my personal space," she said.

Ryan O'Leary of Scarborough said he voted yes on Question 1 because "Maine is old-school on a lot of things, but I think this is something we can be in this century with."

Louise Lawrence, who voted with her husband of 30 years, said she voted no on Question 1 because "the sanctity of marriage needs to be preserved."

"I think civil unions are perfectly adequate for people who live alternative lifestyles," she said.

A steady stream of voters, many with young children in tow, voted in the Scarborough High School gym late Tuesday afternoon. Town Clerk Tody Justice said the busiest time for voting was early in the morning, but turnout in Scarborough may be down from the last presidential election.

"It's not as good as the 2008 turnout, but it's been steady," she said.

About 5,400 people requested absentee ballots this year, down from more than 6,200 in 2008, Justice said.

The presidential race and same-sex marriage were of particular interest for John Wipfler, who voted at the Italian Heritage Center in Portland.

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