At 5:40 a.m. Tuesday, with the outside temperature at 28 degrees, Cindy Veader was first in line to vote at Waterville Junior High School.

Fourteen people were in line behind her, but by the time the polls opened at 6 a.m., that number had tripled.

“I got here at 4:45 a.m.,” said Veader, 60. “I was going to get here at 4, but when I got up and looked out and it was snowing, I said, ‘Ohhh.'”

Waterville voter Cindy Veader waits in line early Tuesday morning outside the polls. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

Long lines greeted voters across central Maine on Tuesday morning, with some people waiting more than an hour in freezing temperatures and light snowfall.

Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said voter turnout Tuesday would likely be historic, based on the number of absentee ballots already returned and strong voter participation on Election Day.

Dunlap estimated the number of eligible voters participating in this year’s election would exceed the 70% who voted four years ago.

By 5 p.m. Tuesday, communities were reporting Dunlap’s estimate was accurate.

Just before 5 p.m., Deputy City Clerk Sarah Cross said Waterville had received 5,900 absentee ballots.

“I would say there were more absentees in this election,” compared to 2016, Cross said.

She said that as of Tuesday evening, almost 75% of the votes in Waterville had been cast by absentee ballot.

“So far, things are going pretty smoothly,” she said.

Skowhegan Town Clerk Gail Pelotte said the first two hours the polls were open were “a little chaotic,” but a lull ensued. At about 5 p.m., voting picked up again.

“It’s been steady and we’ve had little lulls and we’ve had a lot of new registrations,” Pelotte said. “We definitely have less turnout in person because of COVID. It’s been quite a pleasant day, even with the scary thoughts of COVID being in the area, but people have been absolutely fantastic.”

Pelotte said about 2,700 voters had requested absentee ballots, but she was not sure how many still needed to be returned.

Sidney posted its numbers on Facebook. As of 4 p.m., 2,711 votes had been cast, with 630 people voting in person Tuesday. Meantime, 210 absentee ballots were waiting to be processed, and 1,871 absentee ballots had been processed Friday.

According to the post, 2,666 votes were cast in the 2016 presidential election, and the total in 2020 was expected to exceed 3,000.

Seventy new voters registered Tuesday in Sidney.

Belgrade reported it had surpassed its 2016 total, with 2,058 ballots cast as of 5:50 p.m. Tuesday.

Veader, who arrived at Waterville Junior High School before dawn, said she was going to vote for President Donald Trump, the candidate who urged voters to cast ballots in person.

“I don’t like taking a chance of my vote disappearing,” Veader said. “I like to vote in person.”

She said she was voting for Trump because she considered him the better choice.

“This COVID-19 is a serious situation,” she said. “I just don’t believe you close down the country. A lot of people out there are hurting. Businesses are going under. I think he will win. I think it’s going to be a long night.”

Waterville voter Herbert Murry, 67, also said he planned to vote for Trump.

Waterville voter Herbert Murry speaks while waiting in line early Tuesday morning. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

“Nobody likes all his tweeting, but I do think he does a lot of things for the country. He’s a businessman,” Murry said. “I ran into a man who drove a limo for Donald Trump for one week. He said he’s one of the greatest people he ever met. He’d go visit his construction sites, and if people were not doing the job, he’d go over and fire them on the spot.”

The polls opened at 7 a.m. at the Oakland Fire Station, where Town Manager Gary Bowman and police Chief Mike Tracy were outside, directing traffic and helping with other election needs.

“I think we’re going to be busy today,” Bowman said, adding Oakland has 4,800 registered voters this year, 2,700 of whom had cast absentee ballots.

Deputy Oakland Town Manager and Town Clerk Jan Porter, who has worked for the town for 40 years, were busy inside the fire station, where ballot clerks were preparing for the 7 a.m. rush. At 6:26 a.m., Rodney Crowley, 54, the first voter to arrive, pulled into a parking space and walked to the station, where he waited to vote.

Oakland voter Rodney Crowley Sr. leaves the polls Tuesday morning. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

“I’m voting for Joe Biden,” Crowley said. “He’s been vice president so I’m sure he knows the system very well. I believe him. I just believe him.”

Wayne and Becky Fisher, both 66, were  behind Crowley in line. Both said they planned to vote for Trump.

“He’s done more for us than anybody else has,” Becky Crowley said. “He’s not a politician, which is why I voted for him last time.”

Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

Wayne Fisher agreed, saying Trump delivers on his promises.

“He said he was going to drain the swamp, and they’ve been fighting him tooth and nail ever since,” he said. “They’re not policing the cities. Their goal is to destroy America. I’m a law-and-order, control guy.”

In Winslow, voters began lining up outside the Veterans of Foreign Wars post on Veteran Drive long before the 8 a.m. opening.

Anita Ostromecky, 60, her son, Michael Ostromecky, 30, and Mark Cayouette, 59, were the first three in line, waiting for the doors to open.

They engaged in an animated discussion about the divisive election year, how one has to be a critical thinker to discern fact from fiction and how people with differing opinions used to be more respectful of one another.

Winslow voters Michael and Anita Ostromecky wait in line at the polls Tuesday morning. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

While the three chose not to reveal who they supported for president, they said they all turned out in person on Election Day because voting is a right, and they wanted to exercise that right.

“It’s my traditional right to vote in person, and I can’t remember a time in my life when I’ve ever been told we’d have to wait months to find out what the election results are,” Anita Ostromecky said. “That’s a travesty.”

Michael Ostromecky said he felt it his duty to vote.

“I think it’s important to exercise my constitutional right as a U.S. citizen and come out here and vote in person, obviously with social distancing and mask wearing,” he said.

By 7:13 a.m., the line grew to include about 10 people as the sun appeared. Cayouette, taking a break from discussions with the Ostromeckys, said he viewed voting as a privilege.

“It’s our right and it’s what makes democracy work,” he said.

A half-hour later, about 20 miles north in Skowhegan, the line outside the Municipal Building was about a dozen people deep at about 8 a.m.

Grace Hilmer, who was about to enter the building to vote, said she was going to vote a straight Democratic ticket.

Skowhegan voter Grace Hilmer waits to cast her ballot at the polls Tuesday morning in Skowhegan. Amy Calder/ Morning Sentinel

“I’m voting for the continuing rights for women, for immigrants, for children at the border,” said Hilmer, 34. “I have so many reasons for why I’m unhappy with the current administration.”

Later, outside the community center in Fairfield, dozens of people were lined up on the sidewalk as they waiting to vote.

Kate O’Brien, 43, said she always votes in person and she planned to vote for Biden.

“I don’t like the way Trump has divided our country. He claims to be a Christian, but he’s not acting like it,” O’Brien said. “I don’t agree with the things he does and says. I just think he’s narcissistic and a misogynist, and I just don’t think he’s right for our country to move forward.”

Biden, she said, has proven himself  the best candidate during the years he has served the country.

“I think he’s much more relatable to people. He’s just kind, and our country needs kindness,” O’Brien said. “Everyone’s going to have good and bad qualities, and I think his good outweighs the bad and with Trump, definitely not.”

O’Brien said her husband is a Trump supporter who also was voting in person Tuesday. She said they disagree politically and try not to talk politics at home.

Morning Sentinel reporters Taylor Abbott, Molly Shelly and Greg Levinsky contributed to this report.

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