Voter turnout was surging in Waterville Tuesday afternoon, on track to be much higher than expected with the Democratic presidential primary and vaccine law referendum question on the ballot.

 

@scottdmonroeRoland Hallee, Waterville election warden♬ original sound – scottdmonroe

Around 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, Roland Hallee, the Waterville election warden, said that 2,000 votes had been cast and that the polling place had seen a steady flow of voters all morning.

“We’ve seen a lot of young voters,” Hallee said. Hallee expected that about 40% of city voters, or 4,000 ballots, will be cast by the end of the day.

Later in the evening lines to vote were out the door. Some voters waited an hour and half before they were able to vote.

The comments came as officials reported high voter turnout across Maine for the state’s first presidential primary in 20 years. Some polling places reported running low on ballots.

Roland Hallee, Waterville election warden, said Tuesday afternoon that some 2,000 ballots had been cast so far in the primary election. Morning Sentinel photo by Scott Monroe

State and local election officials say both the Democratic primary and a referendum on a law requiring mandatory childhood vaccines seem to be driving voters to the polls on Super Tuesday.

Question 1 asks voters whether or not religious and philosophical exemptions should be allowed by law for vaccinations. Some voters at The Elm said Tuesday that the language of the question was confusing.

Josh Wilkinson, 19, a sophomore at Colby College, said that he came out to the polls to vote for Bernie Sanders in the primary and to vote no on Question 1.

“I voted in favor of requiring immunization, but the wording on the question was tough.” Wilkinson said.

Tuesday marked the first time in two decades that Mainers were using a primary system to express their presidential preference. After high turnout during the 2016 presidential caucuses led to confusion and long delays in some locations, state lawmakers voted last year to join the vast majority of states that use statewide presidential primary elections.

Maine was one of 14 states participating in the Super Tuesday presidential primaries.

Josh Wilkinson, 19, a student at Colby College, said he voted for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic presidential primary and no on Question 1, the anti-vaccine referendum. Morning Sentinel photo by Scott Monroe

Registered Democrats had their choice of five candidates on Tuesday’s ballot who were still actively campaigning for the party’s nomination: Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Tulsi Gabbard, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Maine voters were also considering Question 1, a “people’s veto” that seeks to overturn a law that requires children to be vaccinated to attend school unless they have a medical exemption.

Peri West, 37, said that she skipped Question 1 altogether because she did not feel like she knew enough about the issue to pick a side.

Rachel Deroche, 32, said that she voted for Sanders, citing college and health care as the most important factors.

@scottdmonroe Rachel Deroche at the #Waterville primary election polls. ##Maine♬ original sound – scottdmonroe

“I feel like those are two big things that really plague Americans and that they need help with,” Deroche said. “I feel like it can really make a difference in a lot of peoples lives.”

When it came to the referendum Question 1, Deroche says she voted no.

“I really feel that we have to keep children safe with these vaccinations,” Deroche said. “The ones that don’t are really putting a lot of people that have chronic illnesses at risk, and that has been my main worry.”

Joe Schmalzel, 61, says that he voted for Joe Biden at the primary as he believes that Biden has the greatest chance of winning the election.

 

@scottdmonroeJoe Schmalzel at the ##Waterville polls.♬ original sound – scottdmonroe

“He represents a moderate, centrist position that I think our country needs desperately,” Schmalzel said. “His job would be more about putting things back in the right place. Unfortunately, whoever becomes the next president after President Trump would have the job of creating America again and rebuilding our relationships with foreign policy.”

When it came to Question 1, Schmalzel said that he voted no.

Joe Schmalzel speaks outside of the Waterville polls on Tuesday about voting for Joe Biden in the Democratic presidential primary and no on Question 1, the anti-vaccine referendum. Morning Sentinel photo by Scott Monroe

“Science tells us that (vaccines) save lives, all children should have vaccinations,” he said. “If parents are able to reject vaccinations, then they should legally sign a document that all medical costs they should bare for anything that happens related to that disease.”

“They can put their money where their mouth is,” he added. “They should also pay for all children who were infected because of their child. If they’re going to be a part of society, they need to foot the bill.”

Thomas College in Waterville, the usual voting venue, was not available for today’s elections, city officials said. The voting polls will return to Thomas College for this year’s June and November elections. The Elm is an event center at the site of the former location of the American Legion Hall.

“(Voter turnout) just proves that people want change,” said Heather Merrow, an election official.

In Richmond, in northern Sagadahoc County, voting was steady all day, Mary Alioto, election warden, said around 4 p.m.

“A few times this morning, we had people lined up and waiting,” Alioto said. “Lunchtime was also busy.”

Ruthanne Harrison stops briefly outside the Richmond Public Works Garage to talk about why she voted for Bernie Sanders in Maine’s Democratic presidential primary, and supports keeping the state’s vaccination law in place. Kennebec Journal photo by Jessica Lowell

In addition to the presidential primary and the people’s veto referendum, Richmond had two local questions on the ballot. One is whether to extend the town’s Pipeline Tax Increment Financing District for an additional 10 years; the other is whether to explore withdrawing Richmond’s elementary, middle and high schools from Regional School Unit 2.

But the state and national issues brought Ruthanne Harrison, 62, out to the polls.

“I feel really strongly about getting Donald Trump out of office,” Harrison said. So I wanted to make sure I put in a vote for the Democrat of my choice.”

She said she chose Bernie Sanders, because she feels she agrees with everything he stands for, particularly universal health care.

“I just think (medical care) should be a human right, that everyone should be entitled to health care. It’s for public health, to keep our population healthy. It’s good for everyone in our society.”

At the state level, Harrison said she voted no on Question 1 to keep the law as it is.

“I also feel that’s a public health issue,” she said. “If you want your children to be in school and to be out in public, you don’t want to endanger people with compromised immune systems and young children.”

Matt and Carly Bourque, both 34, brought their 2-year-old daughter Maple with them when they voted Tuesday in Richmond.

Both voted for Sanders in the primary because they support and agree with his policy proposals.

“Student loan debt is a very real thing for me, and I would love for that to change,” Carly Bourque said. “Child care is a very real thing for me, and I would love for that to change. Health care has been an issue for our family. We have pretty good health insurance, but we still end up paying excessive amounts of money beyond what gets taken out of our paycheck. Our life would be different if we didn’t have child care, student loan and medical debt. It just would be way better.”

 

Portland Press Herald writer Gillian Graham contributed reporting. 

 

 

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