In Maine, Republicans LePage and Poliquin hope to make unexpected comebacks

A growing political divide between rural and urban, and coastal and inland communities, will likely come into sharper focus in the midterm election. This was underscored by Republican President Donald Trump’s success in the sprawling, rural 2nd Congressional District, where he earned a single electoral vote in both elections even though he lost the statewide vote.

The top race is between incumbent Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, Maine’s first woman to serve as governor, and former two-term Republican Gov. Paul LePage. Most polls show a tight race with Mills in the lead. Of note, LePage won his previous two elections in races that featured a big-spending spoiler, allowing him to win without a majority. This time there is a third candidate, Sam Hunkler, but polls suggest his impact will be minimal. Ranked-choice voting won’t be used in this race.

The U.S. House race in the 2nd Congressional District features incumbent Democratic Rep. Jared Golden and former GOP Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who made history in their previous faceoff in 2018. That race marked the first time Maine’s ranked-choice voting system came into play. Poliquin won the most votes in the first round, but Golden emerged as victor with the elimination of third- and fourth-place candidates in a second round. A federal judge upheld the outcome and the validity of the voting system. A third candidate, independent Tiffany Bond, is on the ballot for this election.

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For general elections, ranked voting is used in federal races in Maine. Voters rank candidates in order of preference on the ballot. A candidate is the winner if he or she collects a majority vote of the first round. If not, the last-place candidate is eliminated and votes are reallocated in a second round of voting to ensure a candidate wins with a majority.

Among legislative races, Maine has two Somali Americans running for seats. One of them, Mana Abdi, of Lewiston, is assured of winning and making history as the first Somali American in the Legislature because her opponent dropped out.

Former Maine Gov. Paul LePage and former Rep. Bruce Poliquin are making comeback bids in competitive races against their Democrat successors.

Here’s a look at what to expect on election night:

Election Night

Polls close at 8 p.m. ET.

How Maine Votes

Maine has no early voting, but more than 500,000 registered voters nonetheless cast their ballots before the election in 2020 thanks to no-excuse absentee ballots. Many of those absentee ballots may be processed before Election Day but cannot be counted until polls close.

The count is often slow after polls close at 8 p.m. ET. Maine has more than 500 reporting districts. Most small towns still count votes by hand.

Maine doesn’t achieve 100% of tabulations until clerks are required to report their official tallies to the secretary of state three days after the election.

Decision Notes

AP will tabulate 166 contested races in the Maine general election, including the governor’s race, two U.S. House races and legislative contests. In the 2020 election, about half of precincts reported by 11:19 p.m. and 90% of precincts reported by 9 a.m. the following day.

AP does not make projections or name apparent or likely winners. Only when AP is fully confident a race has been won – defined most simply as the moment a trailing candidate no longer has a path to victory – will we make a call. Should a candidate declare victory – or offer a concession – before AP calls a race, we will cover newsworthy developments in our reporting. In doing so, we will make clear that AP has not yet declared a winner and explain the reason why we believe the race is too early or too close to call.

In the two races where ranked voting applies, AP will not declare a winner unless AP is confident of a decisive majority winner in the first round. If there’s no majority winner, then an additional voting round will be conducted by the secretary of state, likely the following week, after ballots are shipped to the state capital and entered into a computer.

The AP may call a statewide or U.S. House race in which the margin between the top two candidates is 0.5% or less, if we determine the lead is too large for a recount to change the outcome.

The AP will not call down-ballot races on election night if the margin between the top two candidates is less than 2% or if the leading candidate is within 2% of the 50% runoff threshold. AP will revisit those races later in the week to confirm there aren’t enough outstanding votes left to count that could change the outcome.

What Else Should I Know?

Q: What Did We Learn From the Primary?

A: There wasn’t much to learn from Maine’s primary elections. Republican Bruce Poliquin easily won his primary to face Democratic Rep. Jared Golden in the 2nd Congressional District. Democratic Gov. Janet Mills and former GOP Gov. Paul LePage were unopposed in their primaries. Likewise, Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree and her opponent, Republican Ed Thelander, faced no primary competitors in the 1st Congressional District.

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Q: What’s Changed Since the Pandemic Election of 2020?

A: The secretary of state has encouraged towns to follow CDC COVID-19 guidelines. Many towns are using similar spacing and masking protocols that they used in 2020, but voters are not required to wear a mask to vote. Maine towns may seek permission to use drop boxes for absentee ballots.

Q: What Do Turnout and Advance Vote Look Like?

A: More than 175,000 absentee ballots were requested as of Oct. 25, a strong showing for a midterm election. Early ballots favored Democratic 2.5-to-1 over Republicans. No-excuse absentee ballots can be requested up to Nov. 3. After that, absentee ballots are only issued under special circumstances.

Q: How Long Does Counting Usually Take?

A: Maine is notoriously late with its vote count because of hand counting in most small towns and communities. Also, all of those absentee ballots may not be counted until polls close.

Q: What Are the Pitfalls With Early Returns?

A: There’s limited information that can be gathered by absentee ballots. The state records the political party of each vote cast, but the actual votes are not counted until polls close. Democrats were requesting far more absentee ballots than Republicans, possibly indicating more voter enthusiasm. However, many Republicans could just be waiting to vote on Election Day.

Q: What Happens After Tuesday?

A: Local election clerks have three days to deliver results to the secretary of state, who must submit election results to the governor within 20 days of the election. If no one receives a majority in ranked voting races, then the ballots will be shipped to Augusta and entered into a computer for additional tabulations the week after the election. Maine has no mandatory recounts even in close elections. But the state does allow candidates to request a recount. The state does not require a deposit for a recount if the margin of victory is 1% or less for statewide or multi-county races or 1.5% or less for legislative races or single-county races. There’s a sliding scale cost for races that aren’t as close.

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