Heavy voter turnout and malfunctioning ballot counters combined to create long waits at polling locations and delayed reporting of election results around the state Tuesday, including in Maine’s largest city.

Six voting tabulation machines broke down in Portland as residents poured into polling places to cast ballots. The timing meant that election workers had to collect and store paper ballots and feed them into the machines later once they were fixed and the polls had closed, state officials said.

“That is standard practice so people aren’t standing around all night waiting until the tabulator is fixed,” said Kristen Muszynski, a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s Office.

The process of scanning those ballots didn’t start until well after the polls closed at 8 p.m. because people still waiting in lines were allowed to vote before the counting process got started. Portland, which typically provides election results well before midnight, did not report its preliminary results until after 5 a.m. Wednesday.

PORTLAND TURNOUT NEARS 70%

City Hall Communications Director Jessica Grondin said election staff members were not available to provide additional information Wednesday, including which machines had trouble accepting ballots and how many ballots had to be scanned after the polls closed.

Although statewide voter turnout will not be known for days, Maine was expected to have record numbers for a midterm election.

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap predicted a 65 percent turnout, well above the record-setting 59 percent turnout in the midterm election four years ago.

Portland was no exception to the intense voter interest and, despite the lines at some polling places, 69.4 percent of Portland’s 56,366 registered voters cast ballots, according to preliminary tallies. The 39,096 people who voted – 78.5 percent of whom chose Democrat Janet Mills for governor – even surpasses the 2016 presidential election, when 38,574 voters turned out.

STATE SENATE RACE A NAIL-BITER

Amid record statewide turnout for a midterm election, Muszynski said 21 communities in Maine reported problems with their tabulators. Most were either caused by user error or involved a fairly minor fix. Portland was one of the few communities that needed a state technician to fix its machines, she said.

“It was a bit higher than usual,” she said of the rash of malfunctions. “We usually only have a dozen or so that we can resolve rather quickly.”

Gorham was among the communities to struggle Tuesday. The town’s election clerks were still processing state ballots Wednesday afternoon, leaving a closely watched Maine Senate race too close to call until incumbent Republican Amy Volk conceded to Democrat Linda Sanborn in a Facebook post.

Muszynski said the tabulation issues in Gorham were an example of user error because election officials tried to use the same memory sticks for both local and state ballots and were unable to extract the results of their counts. “We had to get them new memory devices this morning so they could re-run their absentee ballots, so that is what caused the delay,” she said.

JUDGE EXTENDS POLLING HOURS

The state currently provides 541 tabulators, which are leased through Elections Systems & Security, to communities for processing state ballots. A tabulator is provided to polling places with more than 1,000 registered voters, and an additional tabulator goes to polling locations with more than 3,000 registered voters, Muszynski said. Additional, more technologically advanced tabulators are needed to process ranked-choice ballots, she said.

Muszynski said communities that want to speed up the voting process can lease additional machines to handle either state or local ballots for $589 each – the price in the state’s 2012 contract.

The current tabulators provided by the state are about 7 years old and have a lifespan of 15 years, she said.

Other communities to report issues with tabulators included Windham, New Gloucester, Freeport and Old Orchard Beach.

In addition to the mechanical issues, Portland had to keep a polling location at the Italian Heritage Center open until 9:30 p.m., after a car accident made it difficult to access the facility. The poll hours were extended after the Maine Democratic Party got a court order from Superior Court Justice Thomas Warren. Even with the delay, however, the results from that precinct were reported well before the polling locations that had trouble with its tabulators.

The Italian Heritage Center is the polling place for Portland Precinct 3-2, which includes parts of Senate District 28 and House districts 37 and 41, with 5,028 registered voters as of Sept. 28, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

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