Happy Election Day! Maine is making history in a way that increases uncertainty

Good morning from Augusta. We really don’t want you to ask us to predict Maine’s first ranked-choice voting primaries, but we’re going to learn a lot about how voters are using the new voting system by day’s end.

This is one of the most uncertain Maine elections that we’ve covered. Primaries in Maine are always a crapshoot. They’re even more of one today, when voters will christen the first statewide ranked-choice voting system in U.S. history.

There was only one public poll of the Republican and Democratic primaries in the race to replace the term-limited Gov. Paul LePage in early May published by the Bangor Daily News. It showed businessman Shawn Moody ahead among the four-way Republican field and Attorney General Janet Mills ahead in the seven-person Democratic field.

Results of that poll are next to useless today because that was before campaigns launched television ads, but Moody and Mills have remained the top targets of their rivals so far. If Moody is going to be beaten, it’s probably going to be by former Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew or Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason.

Attorney Adam Cote looks to be the best bet to beat Mills on the Democratic side, though lobbyist Betsy Sweet and former House Speaker Mark Eves are collaborating in an effort keep their voters together in ranked-choice voting rounds. There’s also a Democratic primary in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District that looks to be a tight race between conservationist Lucas St. Clair and Assistant Maine House Majority Leader Jared Golden.

But these are mostly just guesses from the tempo of the race, the outside money flowing in and our deciphering of campaign messaging. LePage was barely registering in pre-election polls in the 2010 primary before romping to victory.

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap is estimating total voter turnout around 25 percent on Tuesday. That makes get-out-the-vote work crucial and one fascinating tidbit about that is that Mason said over the weekend that his campaign has knocked on 70,000 doors — more than half of Republican turnout in that 2010 wave year for the party.

Will ranked-choice voting survive? It may come down to whose party is more motivated. It stands to reason that Question 1, a people’s veto effort to nix a law passed last year that could delay ranked-choice voting through 2021, will be heavily reliant on Democratic primary voters who generally back the new voting method.

If Democrats are more motivated to come out and vote during a midterm election, then the effort has a good chance of passage. Republicans have been largely united against the people’s veto effort, and Mayhew has asked her voters to only use one choice to back her.

This may just be the beginning. Under ranked-choice voting, a winner is only declared immediately if a majority of voters pick one candidate as their first choice, which is unlikely with a large field. If not, the candidate with the lowest share of first-place votes is eliminated and second-place votes for that candidate are reallocated until a majority is won.

The state will count ranked-choice results next week. The Bangor Daily News is still running a town-by-town election results page featuring results from legislative, county and local races, but only first-round results of four ranked-choice voting will be available on Tuesday night from clerks. We’re also running an exit polling operation to try to estimate ranked choices in the governor’s race.

Unofficial ranked-choice voting tallies from the state will be available sometime next week, and none of the Republican gubernatorial candidates has ruled out filing a lawsuit if they lose a ranked-choice election. In some ways, Tuesday will be the beginning of an uncertain process.

Advocates respond to LePage appeal of Medicaid lawsuit

Legal paperwork is flying back and forth in a Medicaid expansion lawsuit. The LePage administration’s appeal of a Maine Superior Court order to tell the federal government how it will expand Maine’s Medicaid program shouldn’t delay that process, according for a filing Monday with the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. The deadline for Maine to file its state plan amendment with the federal Centers for Disease Control was Monday, but it hasn’t happened.

Maine Equal Justice Partners, which spearheaded the lawsuit to force the issue, opposed the administration’s request for a stay on filing the amendment and argued further that the administration should be submitting the amendment while the courts decide on the administration’s appeal. Under the citizen-initiated law enacted in 2017, some 70,000 or more Mainers will be eligible for Medicaid coverage on July 2.

Reading list

  • Maine lawmakers made a bit of progress on breaking a stalemate over stalled legislation. The Appropriations Committee on Monday agreed preliminarily to a $42.2 million spending package that addresses some of the issues that have divided legislators since they adjourned amid a pile of unfinished business last month. House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, both signaled that Monday’s accord moves the Legislature closer to a special session to vote on critical spending measures. However, Monday’s deal did not address several key conflict points, including funding Medicaid expansion, fixing language needed to keep public campaign financing on schedule and a transportation bond.
  • Maine is cutting back on the number of teams providing “multisystemic therapy” for troubled young people. There were once 11 teams across Maine and soon, there will be four and a half. The teams consist of a supervisor and three or four therapists who work with up to six children each, often around the clock. All four agencies that provide these services are losing money because of low Medicaid reimbursement rates.
  • A Bangor program to connect low-level drug offenders with caseworkers instead of sending them to jail is having limited success. The Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program is reaching fewer than half as many people as expected during its first year, only 13. Only 11 of the Bangor Police Department’s 79 officers signed up for two-hour training programs, which is free and nonmandatory.

Election Day humor

As one might imagine, stress is high on Election Day. So as a service to readers and colleagues, the Daily Brief offers this bit of levity in the form of bad jokes to lighten the mood — or give readers something to be mad at other than politics.

Q: Where do chickens vote? A. At fowl polls.

Q: Where do election clerks put ballots to keep them safe? A. In a poll vault.

Q: What do you call it when people waltz to the ballot box to cast their votes. A: A poll dance.

I’ve got a million of them. But I’ll stop now. Tip your waiters. Don’t throw things. Here’s your soundtrack. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins, Michael Shepherd and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but email us directly at ccousins@bangordailynews.com, mshepherd@bangordailynews.com or rlong@bangordailynews.com.

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.