ELLSWORTH — Since Jan. 18, most of Hancock County has been without representation in the state Senate. That will remain the case until a special election just over four months from now.
The June 14 special election will fill the District 7 seat vacated by Louie Luchini, who has taken a position with the U.S. Small Business Administration. The date comes after the scheduled April adjournment of the current legislative session. The election will coincide with the 2022 primaries.
The elected senator will complete Luchini’s term and there will be another District 7 Senate race in November. Statewide redistricting, signed into law this past September, adds a twist. The special election will use current districting while the primary and November elections will use the new districts. Redistricting has added Isle au Haut, in Knox County, and Orland, Penobscot, Castine and Verona Island to District 7. Amherst, Aurora, Eastbrook, Franklin, Hancock, Mariaville, Osborn, Sorrento and Waltham will become part of District 6. That means voters in those departing towns can vote in the special election for District 7 on June 14. If they are registered party members, they also will receive a primary ballot for District 6.
Former legislator and current candidate Brian Langley has a word for the situation: “Confusing.”
“What I’m most concerned with is that the citizens of District 7 don’t have representation in the Senate,” Langley said. He said the legislative body will be taking up critical financial issues and bills that affect Hancock County. He pointed to proposed legislation that would mandate overtime pay for many workers earning middle-class salaries as an example.
State Rep. Genevieve McDonald (D-Stonington), who is also running for the Senate seat, noted that the district’s constituents do have representation in Augusta — through members of the House.
“Holding the special election on the same day as the June primary feels like a typical election cycle where a candidate may compete in both the primary and then the general election,” she said. “It is also fiscally responsible to hold the special election on primary day rather than as a stand-alone election. Having the special election in June will ensure greater participation and be cost-effective for taxpayers.”
She said redistricting “certainly adds an extra element,” and that it will be important for candidates to educate voters about the districts for each election.
Secretary of State Shenna Bellows said it would have been virtually impossible to hold a special election prior to April 20, when the Legislature is schedule to adjourn. That’s because of the timeline involved.
First, Maine’s political parties must caucus to pick candidates. Candidate nominations for this race are due to Bellows’ office by Feb. 16. That’s also the deadline for non-party candidates. Write-in candidates must declare by Feb. 23.
Once the candidates are established, ballots are designed and printed. Steps are taken to ensure accessibility for voters with disabilities and those covered by The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act. The law requires that members of the U.S. military, their family members and U.S. citizens living outside the country receive absentee ballots at least 45 days prior to an election.
With all that taken into account, Bellows said, the timing just did not work. “If there’d have been a way to have that person meaningfully participate [in the current session], that would have been ideal,” Bellows said.
A May special election would have been possible. But with the legislative session already concluded, it seemed practical to wait until the primaries, saving towns the time and money of holding two elections, Bellows said. She added that voter turnout would likely be higher during the primaries as well.
The state Constitution states that a Senate vacancy “shall be filled by an immediate election in the unrepresented district,” but does not provide a specific timeline.
Governor Janet Mills and Bellows signed a proclamation Jan. 26 announcing the special election.
The current Senate District 7 is made up of most of Hancock County, including Amherst, Aurora, Bar Harbor, Blue Hill, Brooklin, Brooksville, Cranberry Isles, Deer Isle, Eastbrook, Ellsworth, Franklin, Frenchboro, Hancock, Lamoine, Mariaville, Mount Desert, Osborn, Otis, Sedgwick, Sorrento, Southwest Harbor, Stonington, Surry, Swan’s Island, Tremont, Trenton, Waltham and parts of the Unorganized Territory.
The Republican caucus will be Saturday, Feb. 12, at the Elks Lodge in Ellsworth. Registration is at 10 a.m. and the caucus begins at 10:30. Only towns that held a party caucus in 2020 can participate. For the Republicans, those are Bar Harbor, Brooksville, Deer Isle, Ellsworth, Franklin, Hancock, Lamoine, Mariaville, Mount Desert, Otis, Surry, Tremont and Trenton. Langley was the only Republican candidate to have come forward as of Tuesday.
Also on Feb. 12, the Hancock County Democrats will hold a nomination meeting at 10 a.m. The meeting will be conducted via Zoom. “By state law, only members of the Hancock County Democrat Committee will be able to vote. Others can attend, however,” said Chairwoman Kay Wilkins. A registration process will be set up shortly. For more information, contact Wilkins at [email protected]
In addition to McDonald, Wilkins said Jo Cooper and Gary Friedmann are running for the Democratic nomination and at least one other potential candidate is considering. “Our process is quite fluid, so we may not know until the meeting who is actually running,” Wilkins said. “We believe in an open process.”