Voters undeterred by the coronavirus pandemic or political tensions appeared to turn out in large numbers at the polls Tuesday in the Augusta area.

When the polls opened at 8 a.m., at Gardiner Area High School the line of voters stretched from the back of the gymnasium, outside and around the corner of the school’s science wing, nearly wrapping around to the opposite side of the building. The line became shorter after the polls opened.

In Augusta, one of the city’s four polling places, Augusta City Center, appeared to have lines throughout the day, though the other three polling places did not.

Long lines greeted many voters across central Maine on Tuesday morning, with some waiting for more than one hour amid freezing temperatures and light snowfall.

Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said Tuesday that voter turnout would likely be historic, based on the huge number of absentee ballots already returned and strong voter participation on Election Day. He estimated the share of eligible voters participating this year would exceed the 70% that voted four years ago.

Pete Hersom was first in line at Gardiner’s polling spot, after arriving around 7:15 a.m. so he could vote as soon as the polls opened and then get to work. He said he’s been voting since he turned 21, in 1965.

“I have to work today. I didn’t want to start work at 10, I start at 8,” Hersom said. “And I knew it was going to be cold today, so I didn’t want to stand out in the wind and snow. I made an extra effort to get here.”

A few people back in line behind Hersom was Dana Pelletier, wearing a Patriots mask, to meet the requirement to wear a face covering while voting. He said he was “not at all worried” about voting in the pandemic, even though he has cancer.

Sisters Anna and Julia Reny voted with their mom, Kay, and while the sisters, students of Cony High School, waited in line at the polls they watched an online English class for school on a cell phone. Cony was closed for in-person classes on Election Day, because it is one of the city’s four polling places.

The sisters just turned 18, voting age, on Halloween over the weekend.

“We made the cutoff by three days, so we lucked out,” Julia Reny said.

Anna Reny said she researched who would be on the ballot and how she wanted to vote.

“It’s something that is very important to me, and I am very thankful that I have the right to do it,” she said of voting. “I’ve definitely paid attention to everything, so I know what I’m doing when I go in there.”

Their mom, Kay, noted being informed voters can have another positive impact — not having to linger too long, during the pandemic, around other people.

“We needed to know what we were doing in there when we went in because I don’t want to spend too much time here,” she said. “I want to be in and out quickly.”

Gardiner City Clerk Alisha Ballard said by Monday night the city had received 1,923 completed absentee ballots, from the roughly 4,200 registered voters, or nearly half.

She said the polls were busy first thing Tuesday, with between 100 and 150 residents voting within the first half hour of opening. The number of voters dwindled during the middle part of the day, but was expected to pick back up between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. as people vote after work.

Most voters appeared to be wearing masks at the polls.

Gardiner had one minor issue with a voter who was wearing a mask, one that said Biden/Harris in large letters. Poll workers asked the man to cover his mask, because, Ballard said, state law does not allow political attire into the polls if its text is larger than three inches, which she said it was on the man’s mask. He agreed to cover it with a plain blue mask from the city, and, Ballard said, he understood and didn’t argue about it.

“We’re doing our best to uphold all the laws,” Ballard said.

By mid-morning in Augusta, lines at the polls had lessened, with virtually no waiting to vote at the Augusta Civic Center, one of four city polling places.

Augusta City Center, another of the city’s polling places, was closed to all business Tuesday other than voting and other election-related business, to allow as many voters as possible into the building without running afoul of state restrictions put in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

That polling place was the only one in Augusta that appeared to have lines outside it all day while the other sites had busy periods but also, at times, no lines at all.

Todd McCuistion said it took him about an hour and a half to vote at City Center, where voters waited outside under a long line of tents to go inside to vote. But he said that wait pales in comparison to when he voted where he lived previously, in California, where it could take four hours or more to cast his vote.

McCuiston said voting at the polls seemed safe and there were people cleaning just about everything there.

He said he voted for President Donald Trump to remain president, because of what he accomplished, and for keeping most of his promises, in his first term, and for Sen. Susan Collins.

Sonya Rickett, standing near the end of a long line early Tuesday afternoon outside Augusta City Center, said she hadn’t actually decided yet who she was going to vote for in the presidential or U.S. Senate race. She said she’d decide in the voting booth.

Kimberly Parker said she planned to vote for Trump for president, in part because she doesn’t trust former Vice President Joe Biden.

Parker said her husband voted earlier in the day and it took about two and a half hours to get through the line and vote. She said they thought about voting absentee but chose to vote in person to make sure their votes “didn’t get lost in the mail or something.”

Roland St. Pierre, when told it could take about an hour and a half to vote at City Center, said he’d stay all day and all night, if that’s what it took. He also said he was not concerned about voting in the pandemic.

“I’ve always voted in person, I’ve only voted absentee once, when I was out of state,” St. Pierre said. “I’m a traditionalist. To me, this is voting day.”

He said he was going to vote a straight Republican ticket, including for Trump, whom he described as “the great disrupter in a system that badly needed to be disrupted.”

Of West Gardiner’s roughly 3,370 residents, 3,023 were registered to vote as of 7 a.m., Tuesday. Town Clerk Angela Phillis said 1,029 had turned out to vote by about 5 p.m., and 1,133 absentee ballots had been cast.

In Randolph, where there is a local three-way race for selectman, 916 people had cast their vote by 5 p.m.

More people voted absentee this year, according to Lynn Mealey, the Randolph town clerk, with 520 absentee ballots handed in before Tuesday.

“When we opened the polls at 8 a.m., there was a line from the door to the parking lot,” she said. “It looked longer because of social distancing, but it’s been a great turn out.”

Mealey said that usually in Randolph, there is a large turnout for presidential elections, but that this year is the largest crowd that she has seen in her years as a town clerk, despite the pandemic.

People have been “respectful” of social distancing, Mealey added, but some voters showed up without a mask.

She is expecting results to be counted shortly after 8 p.m.

In Richmond, shortly after the polls opened at 8 a.m., a line of voters stretched from the public works garage entrance, roughly 50 yards across the parking lot to the street, and voters’ parked cars crowded the streets around the polling place.

Corey Vintinner and his daughter, Brianna, were about halfway through the line and said they’d been waiting for about 20 minutes so far. He said he considered voting by absentee but wanted to be with Brianna at the polls in person as the 18-year-old voted for the first time. He said he wasn’t worried about voting in the pandemic in part because he’s been working throughout the pandemic anyway, and “you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”

Brianna Vintinner said, on the brisk fall morning, she would have still voted even if it was below zero.

Toward the end of the line was Corey’s Vintinner’s mom, Janice, who said she was happy to see her granddaughter voting for the first time, because the right to vote is important.

Just ahead of her in line was Damien LaRochelle, another 18-year-old voting for the first time.

“I’m excited,” he said of voting, noting it was important, with the country potentially at a turning point, to make your choice and vote. He said he came to vote in person because “I wanted to get out and make sure everything gets in OK.”

Across the river in Dresden at Pownalborough Hall, the line to the polls was shorter, maybe 20-people long, though it was still longer than David Everson, wearing a surgical mask and a hat with an American flag on it, expected it to be Tuesday morning.

“I vote every time,” he said. “It’s your civic duty.”

Mike Stewart said the line wasn’t as bad as he’d expected. He, like most other voters, said he was not concerned about voting during the pandemic, saying he views it as manageable, and not anything that’d prevent him from voting.

“I think we’re at a turning point in our country,” Stewart, a college student, said. “I didn’t want to, in the future, have to tell my kids I didn’t vote and I was the reason it went one way or another.”

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