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.
“It’s one of our fundamental responsibilities as citizens,” he said.
Wipfler, the 56-year-old CEO of a health care center, voted for Obama and yes on Question 1.
“Yes. Absolutely yes,” said Wipfler, who is not gay. “For me, it’s a fundamental civil rights issue.”
Wipfler said his decision to support Obama was an easy one. “I think he truly is ultimately more interested in a bipartisan approach to problem solving,” he said.
John Sommer, of Portland, a Republican, voted for Romney and in support of same-sex marriage.
“I’m not a big fan of Obama. I don’t think he’s made a case for four more years,” he said outside the Italian Heritage Center.
Sommer, who works in software project management, said his vote in the presidential election was more of a vote against Obama than enthusiasm for Romney.
Sommer described himself as conservative on fiscal issues but socially liberal. He wishes that more Republicans were that way.
Sommer, 46, said positions about same-sex marriage fall largely along generational lines, with younger people having more contact with openly gay people and accepting their sexual orientation.
“I had to vote my conscience. They deserve equal rights,” he said.
In Brunswick, long lines formed at Brunswick Middle School early Tuesday morning. The lines thinned out by mid-day, but voters were still filing in steadily.
The presidential race, the same-sex marriage ballot question and Maine’s U.S. Senate race were drawing the most attention.
A group of Bowdoin College students, all first-time voters and all from out of state, said they were excited to be able to vote for the first time in a presidential election.
Deion Desir, 18, of New York City, said he chose to vote in Maine rather than cast an absentee ballot in his home state because he thought his vote would mean more here.
“New York is a pretty blue state, so I don’t think (Obama) needs my vote as much there,” he said. “But I also wanted to vote for same-sex marriage. I don’t know of anyone who plans to vote no.”
In Freeport, Jennifer Hayward said she votes every year because it is the best way to make sure the public mood is reflected accurately.
Still, she felt particularly compelled to turn out this year because of the gay-marriage initiative.
“I feel equality is a huge issue,” Hayward said. “The church is separated from state and we either have to separate marriage from state or have marriage equality.”
By Tuesday evening, turnout at some polling places increased as people getting off work lined up to vote.
Keith Herrick, a campaign aide for Jon Courtney’s run for Congress, said he’d seen heavy turnout at several polling places, especially Windham.
“There are 500 people standing outside of Windham right now,” Herrick said at 6:30 p.m. at Windham High School. “The line is unbelievable.”
Christina Peaco, a 19-year-old college student, voted for the first time Tuesday in Scarborough. She said she looked closely at each candidate’s stance on environmental issues. She did not disclose which candidates she chose.
“I’m definitely voting for the future,” she said. “It feels like a lot of responsibility. Even though you’re only one person voting, you can contribute to the outcome.”