Candidates will fan out across the state for a final push. Ads will flood televisions and radios. Undecided voters will soon have to hop off the fence. Maine’s midterm election will finally arrive Tuesday, and it will settle a host of questions.

Will Janet Mills shift the governor’s mansion back to the Democrats? Will Shawn Moody ensure Republicans retain leadership of Maine for at least the next four years? Or will independent Terry Hayes defy the odds and topple both?

Will U.S. Sen. Angus King and U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin beat back their respective challengers?

And will Maine voters approve or reject another tax on the wealthy, this time to pay for senior housing and services and support a series of bonds totaling $200 million?

The stage is set for Tuesday’s balloting and, judging by early voting numbers, interest is high.

About 140,000 absentee ballots had been returned by Thursday, up 34 percent over the last midterm election in 2014.


Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said voter interest is high for a midterm, and he expects a turnout of up to 65 percent, although he was quick to point out that Maine starts with a good baseline of voter turnout.

Democrats are turning out early to vote by a 3-to-2 margin over Republicans, but that has been true in past years as well, and it doesn’t mean those numbers will transfer to Election Day results.

Ron Schmidt, a political scientist at the University of Southern Maine, said the 30,000-foot view of the election a few days out “shows a lot of fog.” The biggest question, he said, could be how much local elections are driven by the national conversation, which is more divisive than it has been in a long time, as reflected in the combative style of President Trump.

“There have been successful midterms where national messages filter down to affect state races – 1994 with Newt Gingrich was a good example of that,” Schmidt said, referring to the former House speaker who successfully led a Republican wave into Congress just two years after President Bill Clinton took office. “But it’s hard to predict whether that will happen this year.”

Schmidt said races are harder to gauge now because there is less polling, especially independent polling.

In the governor’s race, some polls have shown Mills with an edge. Others show it as a toss-up between her and Moody, with Hayes in the single digits.


In the U.S. Senate race, King has consistently led in the polls, with Republican Eric Brakey emerging as his closest competitor and Democrat Zak Ringelstein well behind. Similarly, Pingree appears to lead comfortably over her opponents in the 1st District, Republican Mark Holbrook and independent Marty Grohman. The race between Poliquin and his Democratic opponent in the 2nd District, Jared Golden, looks to be a toss-up.

Also at stake is control of the Maine Legislature, which is split at the moment between a Democratic-controlled House and a Republican-led Senate.

This will be the first general election to employ ranked-choice voting, which Mainers approved through referendum in 2016. Dunlap said there has been some confusion about ranked-choice voting – specifically, which races will use it – but he doesn’t think that will affect turnout.

Ranked-choice voting will be in place only for the U.S. Senate race and both U.S. House races. It will not apply to the governor’s race or to any state legislative races. Ranked-choice voting comes into play only if no candidate reaches 50 percent on the first ballot. If that doesn’t happen, the lowest-ranked candidate is then eliminated and the votes are retabulated with the second choices. The process continues until one candidate has a majority and is declared the winner.

Dunlap said his office is prepared for any races that might not be decided when the votes are counted on Election Day, but he couldn’t predict how long it might take to declare a winner if ranked-choice voting is needed to decide the outcome.

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