A rainy primary election day Tuesday in central Maine drew residents out in cities and towns across the region to vote in local nominating races for state and statewide elective offices, weigh in on delayed school budget decisions and, in some cases, pass their delayed municipal budgets.

Election officials in cities and towns said the turnout through the middle of the afternoon was slow but steady at polling places that had been set up to meet social distancing directives driven by the global coronavirus pandemic. Many had separate entrances and exits to keep people from coming too close to one another, and volunteers were wiping down surfaces after voters had completed their ballots.

Krista MacKay of Gardiner came out with her husband between the bands of rain that crossed central Maine Tuesday afternoon, to the gymnasium at Gardiner Area High School to cast their votes. Both were wearing marks, following the rules posted at the door.

“We are regular voters, and we are not scared to be out in public,” MacKay said.

In other years, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Kennebec Valley on Pray Street is Gardiner’s polling place. This year, because of the pandemic, the polling place had to be changed. The club is offering childcare services only this summer, and the building is closed for other uses.

At the time MacKay voted, only a few people were in the gymnasium. She said she was not surprised to see only a few others at the polls because it’s a primary election.

The low in-person turnout may also be the result of public information campaigns promoting voting by absentee ballot to reduce lines and waiting times at polling places and the strong demand for those ballots that resulted.

Town clerks and election officials across the region reported giving out hundreds of absentee ballots in the days leading up to Tuesday’s vote, and they were available on Tuesday.

Gardiner City Clerk Kelly Gooldrup said more than 700 absentee ballots had been requested in Gardiner, and they were still coming in Tuesday.

“Plus whatever came in the mail today,” she said.

All those ballots will need to be counted, Gooldrup said, and the Gardiner-area school district budget referendum will be counted by hand.

Richmond residents wait for their turn to vote in Tuesday’s rescheduled primary election and town budget vote. Jessica Lowell/Kennebec Journal

In Richmond, about 15 people were lined up in front of the Town Office on Gardiner Street after 4 p.m., waiting to vote in the conference room. A canopy had been set up to provide cover from the rain for the people who were waiting.

Like other towns across the region, Town Office functions were closed for the day while voting was taking place.

Town Manager Adam Garland said residents were complying both with social distancing mandates and the requirement to wear a mask.

“We’ve had 99% cooperation,” Garland said; those who did not wear a mask said they had a medical condition.

Richmond is one of the central Maine towns that opted to replace its open Town Meeting with a secret ballot vote. Ordinarily, Richmond’s budget vote and municipal election takes place in June. But due to public health restrictions on the size of gatherings, other arrangements have been made this year in Richmond and in other communities.

Both March and June Town Meetings had been rescheduled to take place this month.

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