May 24, 2019

Voter turnout low as seats go uncontested

BANGOR — The only things missing were the tumbleweeds.

Polling places around much of eastern Maine resembled ghost towns as voters, by and large, stayed home from Tuesday’s largely uncontested primaries.

With about three-quarters of the precincts reporting by 1 a.m., less than 11 percent of registered Republicans in the 2nd District — the only contested congressional race — had voted.

“Welcome to Snailsville,” said Clay Hardy, a veteran election worker, during one of many long, slow periods at the Brewer Auditorium where he updated the citywide vote tally to just 238 at 5:30 p.m. “We’d have this in the first hour in November.”

Hardy and his fellow election workers around the state used the downtime to do everything from finish novels to catch up on news from the neighborhood — with one election worker in Orono completing an impressive four crossword puzzles by 2 p.m.

The state’s top election official said during a visit to the Bangor High School polling place Tuesday afternoon that he wasn’t surprised at the low numbers, considering the plethora of unopposed candidates on the ballot.

“Without a lot of contested races or a local initiative of some kind, we tend to see this type of turnout,” said Secretary of State Dan Gwadosky, who visited about 15 voting stations around the state Tuesday.

At the statewide level, there were no contested races, and in Maine’s two congressional districts, only the 2nd District’s Republican primary was up for grabs, with assistant GOP House leader Richard Campbell of Holden defeating Mapleton businessman Lynwood Winslow.

Campbell will face Democratic incumbent Rep. John Baldacci, who ran unopposed in his party’s primary.

Tuesday’s ballots also featured about two dozen contested state legislative primaries.

Most of those polled Tuesday cited a sense of civic duty rather than a keen interest in any race as a reason for showing up at the polls.

“I wasn’t sure who we were voting for today … dogcatcher or what,” Louise Libby told an election worker in Orono after casting her vote. “But I did know we were voting today.”

Past primaries show variations not only in overall turnouts, but between the parties themselves.

In June 1998, which featured gubernatorial primaries in both parties plus a race for the Republican nomination in the 1st Congressional District, turnout was 21 percent among Republicans and 15 percent among Democrats.

Turnout was much higher two years earlier, when three Republicans and five Democrats crowded their parties’ ballots for U.S. Senate nominations. The Republicans drew 35 percent and Democrats 29 percent.

This year, however, the primaries seemed to pass unnoticed.

“I don’t know if I wasn’t paying attention or there wasn’t enough media coverage,” said Bradley resident Dennis Grant, who didn’t vote. “But I didn’t even realize I was supposed to vote until I drove by the town hall this morning.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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