PORTLAND — Election of the city’s first popularly elected mayor in nearly 90 years enters uncharted territory Wednesday.
Although former state Sen. Michael Brennan received more votes than any of the 14 other candidates on Tuesday, he did not receive a majority. Under the city’s new ranked-choice election law, that sends the decision to an “instant runoff.”
That process is expected to last several hours.
According to preliminary results, Brennan received the most first-place votes, 5,240, or 27 percent, good for an 850-vote lead over another former state senator, Ethan Strimling, who received 4,390 votes, or 22 percent.
City Hall spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said more than 36 percent of the city’s 48,500 registered voters turned out. A candidate would have had to have received more than 9,000 first-place votes to win in the first round.
At 8 a.m. Wednesday, TrueBallot, a Washington, D.C.-based firm hired by the city, is scheduled to begin scanning and inspecting about 19,500 ballots at a rate of about 6,000 ballots an hour.
Once the ballots are processed, round-by-round tabulation will begin. The candidates with the lowest first place votes in each round will be eliminated and the second place votes will be redistributed until one candidate has a majority.
But it’s unlikely a candidate will have to get a majority of the total votes cast in the first round to win the runoff and election to the four-year post that pays an annual salary of $66,000.
The City Charter says that candidates must only win a majority of votes cast in the deciding round. That means if voters didn’t rank deeply enough on their ballots, the number of votes needed for the majority shrinks.
Brennan said he was “cautiously optimistic” his campaign strategy of gradually broadening his base of supporters will put him over the top.
“I’m very pleased to be in this position at this point,” the 58-year-old Democrat said.
Strimling sounded equally confident. He said closing the 850-vote gap when thousands of second place votes could be reallocated is “absolutely do-able.”
“We suspect that margin will grow tighter,” Strimling said. “We look forward to the second stage of this campaign.”
City Councilor and current Mayor Nicholas Mavodones Jr., who received 2,938 first-place votes, or 15 percent, said he would have liked to have placed higher in the initial count.
“It was nice to see such a good turnout,” Mavodones said. “I don’t know if that helped or hurt my campaign.”
But Mavodones, a three-time council-appointed mayor, said his goal was place within the top three. “(We’re) still within striking distance,” he said.
Two other candidates broke the 1,000-vote mark for first place. City Councilor David Marshall received 1,516 votes, while Jed Rathband’s 1,394 votes were enough to top City Councilor Jill Duson’s 834.
Rathband said he was pleased to have been in the top five. He said his first campaign for elected office proved he could reach voters and raise money.
“At the end of the day it matters who the voters know,” he said, citing the importance of name recognition. “I definitely think (running for elected office) is something I’d like to continue in this city.”
Markos Miller, meanwhile, received 718 votes, followed by Republican Richard Dodge’s 670 votes.
The remaining candidates and their first-round totals are Christopher Vail, 403; Peter Bryant, 367; Ralph Carmona, 317; John Eder, 271; Charles Bragdon, 213; Hamza Haadoow, 185; and Jodie Lapchick, 127.
According to FairVote, a nonprofit, non-partisan group that supports ranked-choice voting, Portland voters clearly understood the new voting method.
The group on Monday announced the results of a survey of 122 voters who voted early.
More than 52 percent said they ranked two to five candidates, while 35 percent said they ranked more than five. About 12 percent said they ranked only one candidate, which is known as bullet voting.
More than 94 percent said they fully understood ranked choice voting, 5 percent partially understood and less than 1 percent were confused.
Nearly 40 percent said ranking candidates was very easy, about 26 percent said it was easy and 22 percent were neutral. More than 7 percent said it was difficult and 4 percent said it was very difficult.
Those results seemed to match anecdotal voter reactions on Tuesday.
“It was easier than I thought,” said Donna Gartland, 41, of Fox Street.
But having to choose between 15 candidates wasn’t easy.
“We spent some time cramming last night,” said 37-year-old Amanda Painter, of North Street, who ranked about five candidates. “I only ranked the ones I knew well.”
The ballot with 15 names listed vertically and 15 bubbles listed horizontally looked like an SAT test, some said. But the city provided rulers to help voters mark the correct bubbles. The state provided magnifying glasses to help the elderly and those with limited vision.
“I’m glad they had the ruler,” said 40-year-old Thatcher Rose, of Fore Street.
Election wardens, however, reported a high number of spoiled ballots at the polls. But they said many voters knew they made mistakes and asked for additional ballots.
Some analysts say forming coalitions benefits instant-runoff candidates, since often a voter’s second or third choice can end up swinging the election.
Marshall, Rathband and Miller announced their support for each other the weekend before the election.
The group called a press conference on Saturday on the steps of City Hall, saying they supported each other because they represented a new era of leadership in the city.
A week before, John Eder announced his support for Strimling – a move that surprised some, who thought Eder would support his fellow Green-Independent, Marshall.
Rathband on Monday said he thought his alliance with Marshall and Miller would be beneficial, since each one received a wide range of endorsements – from the Portland Community Chamber, to the Portland Education Association, to the Maine League of Young Voters.
Although Rathband said the alliance may have been formed a little late, Marshall said it was timed perfectly.
“It got people’s attention right before the election,” he said.
One voter indicated he had ranked all three at the top of his ballot, but not because of the last-minute alliance.
“I didn’t even know about that,” said 33-year-old Todd Herbert, of Oxford Street, who described the three candidates as simply sharing his values.
Attention has also been focused on the how much candidates would spend on their campaigns.
In finance reports filed Oct. 28, covering campaign activity up to Oct. 26, Strimling led the way with $83,000, followed by Mavodones with $46,000, Brennan’s $41,000, Rathband’s $27,500 and Marshall’s $13,000.
Candidates were also required to file reports within 24 hours of receiving or spending more than $1,000.
Those 24-hour reports offer a glimpse into how candidates were spending their money in the final days of the campaign.
Brennan was the only candidate to run television ads. He loaned himself $5,000 before taking out more than $4,500 in TV ads on Oct. 31 and more than $4,000 for TV ads on two different stations on Nov. 1.
Prior to that, Brennan loaned himself another $5,000 on Oct. 26 before spending nearly $19,000 in direct mailers.
Meanwhile Strimling, whose $26,000 cash on-hand dwarfed that of his competitors, spent more than $10,000 on direct mailers on Oct. 26 and $5,000 with Baldacci Communications the following day for “database expenses.”
Strimling also took out nearly $3,000 in radio ads on Nov. 1.
The crux of Mavodones’ final expenses were about $10,000 to campaign staff. Another $2,500 was paid to a California company for a “telephone town hall.”
Rathband spent his $8,000 balance on printing and mailing services. But PAC supporting him spent more than $3,500 in newspaper ads in the closing days.
Marshall reported no major expenditures or contributions in the final days.
On Nov. 1, the Maine People’s Resource Center, the nonprofit arm of the progressive Maine People’s Alliance, released a poll predicting the winner of the mayoral race.
That poll surveyed 477 likely voters, about 62 percent of whom were Democrats.
According to the city clerk’s office, as of Oct. 20, there were a little more than 48,000 registered city voters.
Nearly 23,500 are registered Democrats, and nearly 15,500 are not enrolled in a political party. There are more than 7,200 Republicans and about 2,450 green Independents.
The poll predicted Brennan would receive more than 27 percent of the first round votes and Strimling would receive more than 21 percent.
Mavodones, meanwhile, was predicted to receive nearly 13 percent of the vote, with Marshall picking up more than 7 percent, followed by Rathband at under 7 percent.
The poll also predicted Brennan would win the runoff, giving him the mandate to set the agenda for the city for the next four years.
But Brennan wasn’t writing his inauguration speech Tuesday night.
“We’re cautiously optimistic,” he said.