Mainers will be served up a double scoop of caucuses the weekend of March 5 and 6 with Republicans caucusing in regional gatherings on Saturday and Democrats meeting Sunday in municipalities across the state.

Officials from both parties hope for and expect large turnouts as their members gather to determine which of their respective party’s presidential candidates will win their support. The events can also provide a setting for like-minded people to gather and network politically and socially.

“We’re anticipating a really big turnout,” said Bronwen Tudor, of Georgetown, chairwoman of the Sagadahoc County Democrats. Tudor said Democratic caucuses in some municipalities are being held in new locations because the former sites may be too small to accommodate this year’s anticipated turnout, largely driven by the ongoing, hotly contested presidential nomination race.

“It’s interesting, and a great way for Democrats to find one another,” she said. “It’s a social opportunity, as well as political.”

Maine Republicans will cast votes for presidential candidates by secret ballot at their caucuses, a new format that is part of other changes meant to provide a simpler, more direct and binding method for party members to make their choice.

“We’ve never done this before. It’s a brand new process,” said Rick Bennett, Maine GOP chairman. “It’s easy, it’s accessible, and an opportunity we haven’t had before. And we’re hoping people will appreciate that and take advantage of it.”

So what can attendees expect at each party’s Maine caucuses?

REPUBLICAN PARTY

This year Republicans will vote for their preferred presidential candidate by secret ballot. While officials hope they’ll also stick around to network with their fellow party members and conduct other caucus business such as listening to candidate presentations and filling local and county party positions, they don’t have to do so to cast their votes for the presidential nominee.

Each regional convention will start with an hour in which unenrolled people or those not registered to vote can enroll and register to vote.

After that first hour, polls open for the following three hours during which the secret ballot voting will take place.

“People can come, and we hope they’ll stay and participate in the other activities and share camaraderie with fellow Republicans,” Bennett said. “But if they’re busy and want to get in and go and make their voice heard, you can cast your ballot and depart immediately.”

Another change for this round of Republican caucuses is the presidential votes taken at the caucuses will be binding on delegates, proportional to the March 5 caucus vote results. In the past, Bennett said, a presidential candidate who wanted to win Maine’s delegates had to follow a long and indirect route and turn out supporters to local caucuses and the state convention.

Kim Pettengill, of Farmingdale, chief caucus warden for the Maine Republican Party, expects a high turnout for their caucuses this year in part because of the interest in the new, more direct voting.

Pettengill, who attended her first caucus in 1974 and has gone every two years ever since, is looking forward to this year’s round.

“I enjoy them. You get to see people you don’t always see,” she said. “And (this year) it’s different, a more substantive vote. I think a lot of people who’ve never been to a caucus before are interested in it.”

Each of the 22 regional caucus sites will have an hour reserved for presidential speeches. Those speeches, Bennett said, can be by surrogates speaking on behalf of candidates, including local supporters and national campaign representatives, or if any choose to make an appearance, presidential candidates themselves.

Caucus locations and other information is available on the Maine Republican Party’s website at www.mainegop.com.

DEMOCRATIC PARTY

Maine Democrats have two different ways to weigh in with their preference for the presidential nominee this year. They can join one of the Democratic caucuses to be held March 6 at municipalities across Maine, or they can vote absentee.

Absentee ballots, available at the party’s website at www.mainedems.org, must be received by the Maine Democratic Party by 5 p.m. on March 2, according to Jeremy Kennedy, executive director of the Maine party. Caucus locations and times are also listed at that site.

Maine Democrats won’t vote by secret ballot at their caucuses. Instead, they vote in more of a town meeting-style format.

After the caucus proceedings get underway, attendees will physically divide up into separate groups based upon their presidential preference, and the number of each people in each group will be counted. The allocated number of delegates for that caucus will then be divided up proportionally based on how many supporters each candidate for the presidential nominee receives.

“Caucuses are very different from a primary,” Kennedy said. “At the caucus, you make a public declaration of presidential support. It’s kind of like a town meeting, where you are there with the other people of your town, discussing issues and doing the other business of the caucus. The main event is the presidential portion.”

Candidates or their representatives or supporters from the community may speak at the caucuses.

Other party business conducted at caucuses include the election of local and county committee members and discussion of other party issues. Attendees at some caucuses will be able to meet candidates for state and other offices, as well.

Tudor, a former Vassalboro resident who has been attending caucuses in Maine since 1974, said she anticipates turnout will be high this year, given the strong feelings people supporting the potential presidential nominees seem to have.

She said some caucuses have been moved to new sites to accommodate the expected larger turnout. In Richmond, for example, Democrats will caucus at Marcia Buker Elementary School out of concern the previous site at the town office might be too small.

Residents who are not registered to vote or registered as unenrolled voters may register to vote at caucus locations in the hour before the scheduled caucus start time.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj