Medicaid expansion draws early voters to polls

2017-11-08 | Bangor Daily News

Nov. 07--Marcia Larkin came to the polls in Bangor early Tuesday to vote yes on Question 2.

"Everybody deserves access to health care," Larkin said after voting in favor of the ballot measure to expand Medicaid to newly cover an estimated 70,000 Mainers.

Larkin works in the transportation division of the Penquis Community Action Program, a not-for-profit organization that assists low-income families and senior citizens.

"We hear stories all the time from people who aren't eligible for health care," she said. "All kinds of problems, including depression and social isolation, flow from people not having health care."

For Margo Lukins of Orono, expanding Medicaid was the most important issue on the ballot this year.

"The return on the state's investment in people's health is going to be enormous," she said as she headed into vote at the New Balance Field House on the University of Maine campus.

If passed, Question 2 would expand Medicaid eligibility to adults younger than 65 with incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. That's annual income of $16,643 for a single person or $22,412 for a family of four in 2017.

In an October poll, about 69 percent of respondents favored a "yes" vote on Question 2.

Brent Littlefield, spokesman for the No on 2 campaign, said in an email Tuesday that volunteers were making calls around Maine to urge voters "to stop another failed Medicaid welfare expansion."

"We expect Maine people will remember the nursing home cuts and hospital debt which resulted from the last expansion," he said.

Even if Medicaid expansion draws people to the polls, turnout is not expected to top 30 percent statewide, Secretary of State Matt Dunlap predicted.

It was unclear early on Election Day whether the proposed merger of Lewiston and Auburn or local elections in Portland and Bangor would bring enough voters to the polls to increase the statewide turnout average.

But visits to polling places Tuesday in Old Town, Monmouth, Sabattus, Portland and Lewiston appeared to support Dunlap's prediction, he said at about 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.

"Turnout appears to be strong in small towns with hot-button issues like Sabattus, which has a school bond on the ballot," he said. "Portland had a pretty steady stream of voters but there were fewer voters in Lewiston than I'd expected."

No major voting problems had been reported, he said.

As voters left polling places in Bangor and Orono, candidates and activists gathering signatures greeted them.

That included petitioners seeking enough signatures for a people's veto of the Legislature's delay in implementing ranked-choice voting, passed in last year's election. In a ranked-choice system, voters may choose multiple candidates in order of preference, instead of voting for one candidate.

The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, which spearheaded the 2016 campaign, is under a tight deadline. It has 90 days to gather more than 61,000 signatures that would qualify the question for the June 2018 ballot.

Representatives from the Maine People's Alliance also are working to put a question on the ballot next year aimed at raising taxes on some Mainers to increase funding for home health care for seniors and people with disabilities.

Candidates and their representatives seeking support for next year's crowded governor's race also spoke with voters after they'd cast their ballots.

State Treasurer Terry Hayes, an independent candidate for governor, was in Bangor. Representatives from her campaign and one from Democratic gubernatorial candidate Betsy Sweet gathered signatures and collected $5 donations to qualify as Clean Elections candidates.

Hayes said she also urged voters to check the unclaimed properties program on the treasurer's website to see if their names were listed. As of Tuesday morning, the office was holding more than $235 million in unclaimed property.

"I have a lot of Mainers' money I'd like to get rid of," she said.

Watch for updates.