LEWISTON — Voters were so eager to cast ballots in the mayoral runoff election Tuesday, they began lining up at 6:30 a.m. — 30 minutes before the polls opened.
“I’ve never seen that at any election — that’s huge,” City Clerk Kathy Montejo said. “There was a little bit of a party going on in the hallway. It was fantastic.”
And despite the storm that blanketed the area with snow and sleet Tuesday morning, turnout remained strong through the morning. By 10:30 a.m., Montejo estimated that well over 1,000 people had voted.
Another five to 10 voters filed in every minute.
“What you’re seeing here is the slowest it’s been all day,” Montejo said. “They recognize that it’s an important election for the city and they want to come out and vote. A lot of people are saying, ‘I live in Maine. I’m not being deterred by this (snow).’ Of course, we’re sending the message, ‘use caution, use safety.'”
A runoff was required because neither candidate got at least 50 percent of the vote on Election Day in November.
On Tuesday morning, Bouchard and Chin stood beside each other in front of the gym doors at Longley Elementary School and greeted voters as they arrived to cast their ballots.
As is common, the morning’s voters skewed older. Retirees tend to vote during the day, while families and younger people tend to cast their ballots in the evening after work, Montejo said.
She would normally expect a new wave of people around 3 p.m., after parents picked up their children from school, and again in the evening after people leave work. But with schools closed for a snow day and some employers letting workers out early because of the storm, she was unsure what to expect.
“The afternoon weather will totally dictate crowds,” Montejo said.
By 5:30 p.m., Montejo estimated that about 4,000 ballots had been cast. That was on top of about 3,100 absentee ballots. While turnout was slowing, she said, the vote count was crawling toward the 10,000 that had been cast during the Nov. 7 election.
The usual after-work rush is normally larger, Montejo said. She guessed the weather was a factor. Two years ago during the runoff vote, she said there were “huge lines” between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. This year at the same time there was a steady trickle.
To make voting as easy and as safe as possible, Montejo said, Public Works was paying special attention to the road, walkway and parking area in front of the elementary school. The school’s facility staff were working to keep the school’s floors dry and clear of melted snow so voters don’t risk slipping once inside.
After polls closed at 8 p.m., Montejo said, about two dozen volunteers would arrive to hand-count the ballots.
Beth Roy, 53, was one of the voters who braved the snow to cast a ballot in the morning. For her and her husband, the storm wasn’t a deterrent.
“Nah,” she said. “I have studded tires.”
They considered the election too vital to miss.
“It’s important to vote today,” she said.
Mahatho Dekow, 22, also braved the snow to cast her ballot. She left the polling place just as the snow turned to sleet and began to freeze on windshields.
“Because of the snow, it’s hard to get out and drive,” she said. “But I was like, ‘OK, I have to go.’ So I got in my car and here I am.”
She was glad she had.
“I don’t want to miss out,” she said. “Every vote counts.”
Voters line up to get their runoff ballots at Longley Elementary School in Lewiston on Tuesday morning. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)
Lewiston mayoral candidates Shane Bouchard, left, and Ben Chin, third from left, greet voters as they make their way into the gymnasium at Longley Elementary School on Tuesday to vote in the runoff election. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)
Voters did not seem to be deterred by the morning snowfall. The polls at Longley Elementary School were packed all morning for the mayoral runoff between Shane Bouchard and Ben Chin. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)
Voters leave the polls at Longley Elementary School in Lewiston on Tuesday morning during the mayoral runoff election between Shane Bouchard and Ben Chin. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)
Maine People’s Alliance members Alyssa Thompson of Leeds, left, and Mohamed Abdullahi, right, of Lewiston, brave the cold and snow outside Longley Elementary School in Lewiston on Tuesday morning as they collect signatures to get universal senior care on the ballot in the next election. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)