Maine Democratic caucuses in Portland hit snags

Arriving voters overwhelm Portland Democratic Caucus location.

PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Thousands of Democrats in Portland lined up for hours at Deering High School on Sunday to participate in the state caucus.

The large turnout overwhelmed staff, causing major delays. Some people waited for hours outside in line. To decrease congestion, staff moved the check-in desks outside.

"It's worth every minute, so I'm looking forward to getting in and casting my vote," said Travis Lawson, a Bernie Sanders supporter. "The people of Maine, we've always been outspoken and we demand that our votes count and voices be heard."

People waited in lines that wrapped around the athletic fields at the high school. Deering High School was the only location for Portland Democrats to caucus in Maine's largest city. The Maine Democratic Party told caucus conveners to expect 25 percent more voters than there were in 2008. 

"You plan as well as you can. At the end of the day, the flood that we're seeing here I think is beyond anyone's wildest expectations," said Phil Bartlett, chairman of the Maine Democratic Party.

Those who were in line by 1 p.m. who still needed to register were allowed to. 

"I didn't really know what to expect. This is my first caucus. I knew that a lot of people were going to come out and vote but I didn't realize there were going to be this many people that were un-enrolled," said Clif Rogers, who was previously un-enrolled, but came Sunday to enroll in order to vote for Bernie Sanders.

Anyone who was in line by 2 p.m. was allowed to vote by casting a ballot, instead of caucusing. The Maine Democrats got the change approved by the state.

"We want to air on the side of allowing people to vote," said Bartlett.

Mayor Ethan Strimling called the delays unacceptable. He said he plans to go to state politicians to change the way the caucus is run.
"Well I'd love to go to a primary, but if we don't have a primary we have to plan better for a caucus -- make sure we have a process in place so that everybody can get through," said Mayor Strimling. "People are standing in the cold for hours just to be able to practice their constitutional right to vote. As the mayor of this city, I can't have Portland voters having to wait 5 or 6 hours to be able to vote."
Maine Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond also declared that he will push for a bill to change the caucus to a primary. Alfond said the bill would eliminate the tradition of caucuses in Maine, and switch to Presidential primaries moving. He said this will better accommodate huge voter turnout like we saw today for the democrats and yesterday for the republicans.
"We have so many excited people in Maine that want to come out to the primary, that want to come out and vote that we should be able to do it in a better process."
A majority of leaders from both parties would have to approve the bill for consideration in this season.
There were other issues for voters Sunday.
Some voters could not be verified as registered Democrats due to a glitch in the computer system -- and had to cast provisional ballots. The city will cross-reference the voters verbal declarations as Democrats against the list of registered Democratic voters to ensure the votes are allowed.
The city clerk also ran out of voter registration cards at one point, according to Mayor Strimling.
While many people took the opportunity to cast a ballot and leave, others like Cheryl Miner, who traveled from Peak's Island, stuck around to participate in their first caucus.
"I think it's great that so many people are participating and want to get out there and be heard," said Miner.

Copyright 2016 WCSH


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