April 06, 2020

Voter turnout tops concerns surrounding gay rights vote

A few signs, bright against the ice and snowdrifts, announce the Feb. 10 election. A few bumper stickers, just printed and stuck onto cars, promote the gay rights referendum. But with only a few months for the whole campaign — much of the time during the holidays and the ice storm — advocates for both sides are worried that only a few people in Maine will remember to go to the polls.

Neither side is putting much effort into persuasion — they just hope people will know there’s an election that day.

A poll released Wednesday indicates that 62 percent of registered voters would vote no on whether to repeal the gay rights law passed last spring; 29 percent said they would vote yes; and 9 percent were undecided. Those figures are nearly the same as a Strategic Marketing Services poll from last fall, but are not especially informative for predicting the results of the Feb. 10 election, according to professors and advocates for both sides.

“Those results at this point mean absolutely nothing,” said Christian Potholm, a government professor at Bowdoin College. “This election will be entirely [voter] turnout-driven.” Because the poll does not ask whether people are definitely planning to vote Feb. 10, he said, “29 could easily be 52, 62 could be 48 percent.”

The Strategic Marketing Services omnibus poll surveyed 450 people statewide between Jan. 16 and 20, and it has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.6 percent. People were asked, “If today were election day, how would you vote?”

With such a confusing question — “Do you want to reject the law passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation based on employment, housing, credit and public accommodations?” — Douglas Hodgkin, a professor of political science at Bates College, said that many voters won’t even be sure what yes and no mean.

“Especially if there has not been an intense campaign which would inform the voters — and there hasn’t been so far — there will be a lot of confusion.”

But the campaign may well intensify in the final two weeks. Maine Won’t Discriminate, the coalition that supports the law, has filmed television ads with Gov. Angus King.

Michael Heath, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, said his group may advertise next week but he doesn’t know yet whether those ads will be on TV, radio or in newspapers. The Christian Civic League and the Christian Coalition have recently gotten more money from national and local sources, he said.

By mid-January, Maine Won’t Discriminate had raised far more than Vote Yes for Equal Rights.

Both sides have been concentrating on getting out word of the vote rather than trying to persuade undecided voters. Joe Cooper, a spokesman for Maine Won’t Discriminate, said, “I think Maine as a community thinks discrimination is wrong, they haven’t wavered on any of their views. There’s consistently about 65 percent of the community saying discrimination is wrong, then there’s the special group saying, `We want the special right to discriminate.’ If people don’t come out and vote, those special interests will be able to decide who gets discriminated against in the state.”

Paul Volle, executive director of the Christian Coalition of Maine, said, “It’s such a very short time that we’re just trying to raise awareness that there’s an election going on.” He said that one out of four voters the group has contacted by phone doesn’t even know that there’s an election coming up.

Potholm said low turnout would probably translate into an advantage for opponents of gay rights. “If you’re the side that wants to keep gay rights you have to give a sense of urgency … But the ice storm put everybody back – it felt like the Middle Ages, hauling water, hauling wood. I think the ice storm was sent by a god from the Old Testament, not a god from the New Testament.”

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