AUGUSTA — The prospects for bigger paychecks and marijuana social clubs could tempt Maine’s younger voters, disenchanted with the presidential candidates, to come to the polls, potentially providing winning margins in tight races on Election Day.

Ballot questions on raising the minimum wage or legalizing the recreational use of marijuana are on the Nov. 8 ballot in Maine and 11 other states. Maine is offering both questions.

University of Maine student Sam Saucier said she and other supporters of former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders are heeding his call to shift their energy to local issues, like the minimum wage. But Saucier, who organizes campus volunteers, said she continues to come across those who are unfamiliar with referendums and don’t plan to vote.

“My reaction has been, ‘Well, you can still fill out the ballot and not vote for president,’ ” Saucier said.

The challenge for ballot question campaigns – increasingly backed nationwide by multimillion-dollar contributions – is reaching a generation that votes at lower rates and is less swayed by traditional tactics such as TV attack ads or radio ads.

But a new poll by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics suggests young voters are being motivated by their fears about the nation’s future. And a recent GenForward poll found that 48 percent of 18- to 30-year-olds said they’ll vote in November.


Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, Maine’s top election official, said young voters could turn out in high enough numbers this year to sway races and especially the questions on the minimum wage and marijuana.

Question 4 on Maine’s ballot would increase the state’s minimum wage from $7.50 to $12 by 2020, with annual cost-of-living increases after that. Question 1 would legalize marijuana for recreational use for those 21 and older.

A recent Pew Research Center poll finds the nation’s estimated 69.2 million millennials – those aged 18 to 35 – are now more than twice as likely to support legalization of marijuana as they were in 2006.

And a GenForward poll showed about 3 in 10 young blacks and Latinos said raising the minimum wage was among their top issues.

But millennials, who make up about one-third of the voting-age population, consistently have the lowest election turnout. And the U.S. Census Bureau data suggests putting millennial-friendly issues on the ballot alone doesn’t spur turnout during elections.

David Boyer of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol in Maine has reported raising $1.6 million. He said telling young people they could make marijuana legal is a “good motivator in itself.”


His ballot campaign, like others that seek the millennial vote, is increasingly investing in new ways to reach a generation of smartphone-wielding cord-cutters. Maine ballot campaigns report spending about $252,000 on producing digital ads and $8,331 to Facebook for promoting advertisements that avoid ad-blocking software.

Bates College students Meghan Lynch and Emily Manter say young people respond better to face-to-face conversations and social media ads. They estimate they have 40 campus volunteers wrangling support for ballot questions.

“I think Bernie’s campaign frustrated people,” Lynch said, noting the growing exasperation with the government. “I think that then transferred motivations to activism down to the local level. That’s why people are getting more plugged into the referendum questions.”

Although conventional wisdom suggests young voters are open to legalizing pot and raising the minimum wage, Dunlap said people shouldn’t take for granted how young people will vote.

For example, he said, many young voters are divided on the minimum wage proposal because those who rely on tips can make more than $12 per hour.

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