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Final election results show Maine voters ‘had passion around Question 3,’ says Secretary Bellows

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Final election results show Maine voters ‘had passion around Question 3,’ says Secretary Bellows

Nov 28, 2023 | 6:49 pm ET
By Emma Davis
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Final election results show Maine voters ‘had passion around Question 3,’ says Secretary Bellows
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Secretary of State Shenna Bellows chats with poll worker Sue Pastore at Deering High School in Portland. (Emma Davis/ Maine Morning Star)

Approximately 37% of the citizen voting age population in Maine turned out for the most recent election, a result that’s on par with the last comparable off-year in 2021. 

Mainers cast 410,040 total ballots for the Nov. 7 referendum election, according to the official tabulation released by Secretary of State Shenna Bellows’ office on Tuesday. This is out of the 1,100,974 citizens of eligible voting age in the state, according to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2021, the overall turnout was similar when roughly 38% of the voting age population turned out at the polls.

Those who voted this year had the strongest opinions on Question 3, which asked Mainers if they wanted to switch from the current investor-owned utility model to a consumer-owned utility. It failed with 283,401 people voting in opposition and 122,961 in support and had the fewest blank responses out of all eight questions on the ballot.

“Clearly voters had passion around Question 3,” Bellows told Maine Morning Star.  

Bellows said while the number of questions left blank by voters was statistically significant, it was not a record high. Overall, she said the high number of blank responses indicate that voters were likely driven to the polls by specific questions that they felt strongly about one way or another.

While the official tally shows voters overall felt strongly about Question 3, those opposed had the strongest turnout. Question 3 received the most “no” votes out of the eight ballot questions. This stance appeared to carry over into votes on Question 1, which aimed to block the proposed utility buyout. Voters passed it, with 260,670 voting yes and 137,478 voting no.

Mainers cast the most “yes” votes for the question about foreign electioneering, Question 2. This question also passed by the largest margins compared to other ballot measures, with 348,781 people voting in support and 55,226 voting in opposition for a difference of 293,555 votes. Question 2 will ban donations for state and local ballot measures, a loophole in federal election law that otherwise bans foreign spending on candidate elections.

Question 8 was the closest call, with a difference of 27,057 votes. This question asked if voters wanted to scrub the part of Maine’s constitution that bars people who are “under guardianship for reasons of mental illness” from voting in state and local elections. Question 8 failed, with 184,063 people voting for and 211,120 voting against. 

Questions 4 and 6 also received sizable voter support. 

Question 4, which passed with 341,574 votes for and 63,208 votes against, will now provide independent repair shops with “the right to repair” by requiring manufacturers of certain vehicles to standardize diagnostic systems and make them accessible to those shops and owners. 

With the passage of Question 6, Maine will now print its full state constitution, including its treaty obligations. Yes votes for Question 6 tallied at 289,818 in favor and 107,466 opposed. 

Voters appeared to have the weakest opinions about Question 7, which had the most responses left blank. Question 7, which ultimately failed, also received the second-most “no” votes. Bellows proposed this question, which she described as a housekeeping amendment to ensure the state Constitution aligned with the U.S. Constitution in allowing people from out of state to gather petition signatures.

The other question Bellows proposed, Question 5, passed with 227,602 people voting in favor and 166,876 opposed. As a result, more time will now be designated for election officials before and after elections to solely focus on elections. Question 5 had the second-most blank responses, also indicating many voters did not have strong opinions either way.

Bellows said this year’s election turnout does not provide any meaningful takeaways for 2024 predictions. Overall, turnout year to year, between comparable types of elections, has historically remained consistent. 

Certainly, even years are the peaks and the odd years are the valleys,” Bellows said, referring to gubernatorial and presidential election years versus off-years like this November’s election. 

Any variation beyond that is largely dependent on the type questions on the ballot and how strongly voters feel about them. For example, 2009, another off-year election, saw more than 50% voter turnout, which Bellows attributed to the same-sex marriage question on the ballot that year.

Still, Bellows characterized turnout this year as “very good for a referendum election year” and she said she was pleased with the smooth voting and ballot counting processes.

“That is so important in an era of rising questions about the strength of our democracy,” Bellows said. “It is good to know that democracy here at home is strong.”