Mainers will enter the ballot box Tuesday to answer a host of referendum questions.

Voters won’t find races for Congress, governor or the Legislature on their ballots, except to fill a vacant seat in Maine House District 56. But they will decide whether Maine expands Medicaid health coverage and whether a casino can be built in York County.

In Lewiston and Auburn, they will decide whether two cities become one. In Portland, they will decide whether to limit rent increases. In many towns, they will decide key public projects and who will serve in elected offices.

“This is a busier-than-usual off-year election,” Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said.

Still, voter turnout was already not expected to be high, according to state and local election officials and a review of previous election year results. Dunlap said widespread power outages caused by a storm last week could also discourage people from voting, and he will be working with local clerks in case their polling places don’t have power Tuesday. In some towns, turnout could be below 20 percent this year, but Dunlap predicted it would be higher in areas with hot-button local issues.

“You have very contested City Council races in Portland,” Dunlap said. “You have the merger referendum in Lewiston and Auburn. You have your two highest population areas that have stuff for people to vote on.”


The state ballot alone will include four referendum questions, including two citizen initiatives.

Question 1 is seeking voter approval for a third casino in Maine, which would be built somewhere in York County.

The referendum is written to allow only one person, Shawn Scott, to apply for a permit to build the casino. Scott won authorization for the state’s first gambling facility in Bangor in 2003.

Supporters have argued a casino in York County would create more than 2,000 permanent jobs and generate $45 million in annual tax revenue, projections that have been dismissed by critics of gambling as an economic development tool. The controversial campaign was the subject of a probe by the Maine Ethics Commission for violating state campaign finance laws by failing to disclose the true source of its funds and by missing deadlines to file reports; on Friday, the commission levied $500,000 in fines against the four committees behind the referendum for those violations.


Expanding eligibility for MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid health insurance program, is Question 2 on the state ballot.

Maine will be the first state in the nation to weigh in on Medicaid expansion by referendum. It is among 19 states whose legislators or governors have not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Republican Gov. Paul LePage has vetoed Medicaid expansion five times, which led to the effort by supporters to put the issue on the ballot.

Conservatives like LePage have opposed expansion, while liberals and all major health care groups, such as groups representing hospitals, doctors and nurses, are in favor of it.

Supporters of expansion have said it would give health care coverage to about 70,000 low-income Mainers and help struggling rural hospitals gain better financial footing because they would have to provide less free care. About 265,000 Mainers currently have Medicaid. Opponents argue that hospitals would benefit at the expense of Maine taxpayers, and expanding public health coverage would not help lower health care costs.


The remaining two questions on the state ballot have drawn less interest ahead of Election Day.

Question 3 on the state ballot seeks approval for a $105 million bond to fund repairs and improvements to the state’s transportation infrastructure. The bulk of the money would be directed to repair priority roads and bridges. Dollars would also be allocated for the state’s sea and air ports, freight and passenger railroads and pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. This is the second of three consecutive years of borrowing planned by the Maine Department of Transportation to fill gaps in annual highway funding.

Question 4 is a proposed constitutional amendment dealing with amortization of pension losses. The pension system to support retired state employees and teachers is in the state’s Constitution, so any changes require a constitutional amendment approved by referendum. The funding ratio of the Maine Public Employees Retirement System hit an all-time high of 83.6 percent in 2016, making it one of the best-funded public retirement systems in the nation. Currently, the state has 10 years to pay back any unfunded liability that was created by investment losses. Question 4 would increase that timeline to 20 years, which the state says would insulate the system from shifts in the economy.


For residents in some cities, the referendums don’t stop at the state ballot.

A merger for Lewiston and Auburn in on the ballot in both cities, and each city must vote “Yes” for the union to move forward.

Consolidation has been discussed for years. If passed this year, the measure would initiate a two-year transition process and lead to a new city starting on Jan. 2, 2020.

Supporters argue it would save money for residents of both cities, and the unified city could attract more young professionals to fill a workforce shortage. Opponents worry about losing a sense of identity and question whether the savings would be as promised.


And in Portland, voters will consider four more questions.

Question 1 would enact rent control for the first time in Maine’s largest city. The proposed ordinance would limit annual rent increases to the rate of inflation and create a rent board to oversee rent increases and evictions; mediate disputes between renters and landlords; and assess fines for ordinance violations, among other things.

Supporters claim the proposal would preserve affordable housing and economic diversity in Portland’s tight rental market. But local landlords warn the proposal would stymie development, and affordable housing agencies worry the changes would make it more difficult for low-income and homeless people to find a landlord willing to rent to them.

Question 2 could give residents the power to block zoning changes and unwanted projects near their homes. The proposed ordinance would block changes to zoning land-use rules from moving forward if 25 percent of the registered voters who reside or own property within 500 feet of the zone change sign a petition in opposition.

Supporters believe the ordinance is needed to give neighborhood residents more power to negotiate with real estate developers and city officials. Opponents say it would undermine the public process and give a small group of people the power to stop developments that could benefit the city as a whole.

In Questions 3 and 4, voters will have a choice in how to move forward with renovations in the city’s aging elementary schools.

Question 3 is a $64 million bond that would use local tax dollars to renovate four schools. Question 4 is a $32 million bond to renovate two schools while seeking state funding for the other two.

If both questions receive more than 50 percent of the vote, the question with more “yes” votes will win. If both get a majority and the same number of “yes” votes, the question with fewer “no” votes will be enacted.


Other municipalities across the state face a variety of choices, from bonds to pay for public buildings to races for local seats on councils, select boards and school boards.

For example, voters will decide a contested race for mayor in Saco, and Scarborough will weigh a proposal to borrow $19.5 million for a new public safety building.


Residents in towns and cities across Maine can look up the location of their polling place and the candidates on their local ballots on

Results will be posted online at as the numbers come in after the polls close Tuesday, and published Wednesday morning in the Portland Press Herald.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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