Absentee voting kicks off today ahead of the November referendum on the Central Maine Power corridor, along with two other ballot questions and local races. The controversial $1 billion project could drive higher turnout for an odd-year election, although that has not shown up yet with absentee voting just kicking off today.
Maine set a record for turnout in a general election in 2020, when nearly 820,000 people voted. But turnout in off-year elections has varied over the past decade depending on what is on the ballot. In 2009, when Mainers were tasked with voting on seven ballot questions, including a referendum to overturn the Legislature’s legalization of same-sex marriage, 568,000 voters turned out, accounting for about 77 percent of turnout in the previous year’s general election.
Ballot questions since then have not generated as much excitement. Nearly 347,000 voters cast ballots in 2017, when progressives campaigned for a referendum to expand Medicaid in Maine, but fewer than 190,000 turned out in 2019, when the ballot only consisted of a bond question and a constitutional amendment dealing with voting assistance for people with disabilities.
The corridor referendum is a high-profile fight that has drawn record sums of paid media. The possibility of a ballot question has loomed for nearly two years after opponents of the project initially gathered signatures for a referendum last year, only to have the Maine Supreme Judicial Court rule it unconstitutional.
Since the start of 2020, the fight has attracted more than $42 million in spending, led by CMP’s efforts to shore up the corridor’s popularity, although anti-corridor groups, funded by rival energy companies, have spent millions as well. That is not including spending from the past three months, which will be reported in mid-October. The only political race in Maine history to ever exceed that was the titanic 2020 U.S. Senate campaign.
As of late last week, more than 19,000 Mainers had requested absentee ballots, according to the Maine secretary of state’s office. That is a relatively small number following a year when Maine set records for absentee voting levels amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but there are still three-and-a-half weeks to request ballots, and more voters may be comfortable voting in person this November due to the widespread availability of vaccines.