AUGUSTA, Maine — Lawmakers heard testimony Wednesday on a bill that would prohibit Mainers who cast votes by absentee ballot from asking for a do-over simply because they changed their minds.
The issue of when and how voters could request a new absentee ballot arose in the final days of last fall’s gubernatorial race.
Hoping to capitalize on a last-minute surge in the polls, the campaign of independent candidate Eliot Cutler sent out an e-mail one day before Election Day advising anyone who might be second-guessing their early vote to request another ballot.
The message appeared to be aimed at liberals and moderates who voted early for Democrat Libby Mitchell but were willing to switch to Cutler to prevent a victory by Republican Paul LePage, who beat Cutler by less than 2 percentage points.
“Many people have asked us if they can take back their absentee ballot if they voted early,” Cutler’s campaign manager, Ted O’Meara, wrote in the Nov. 1 e-mail.
“We are advised by our legal counsel that this is permissible under Maine law. If you know anyone who has already voted and now wants to vote for Eliot, they should fill out the attached form and go to their town hall immediately,” O’Meara wrote.
The last-minute appeal did not appear to a result in many requests. But municipal clerks and the Secretary of State’s Office expressed concerns about the mere prospect of a flood of early voters inundating election officials with requests.
In response, House Speaker Bob Nutting has introduced LD 179, a bill that would prohibit clerks from issuing a second absentee ballot to voters who have a change of heart. Nutting’s bill would still allow voters to request a second absentee ballot if the original ballot is lost or damaged.
Nutting, R-Oakland, told members of the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee that his bill merely attempts to clarify the statute, ensuring that a vote cast by absentee ballot is treated the same as a vote cast in the voting booth.
“On Election Day, voters are not allowed to pull back their votes if they change their minds later in the day,” Nutting said.
“I believe this clarification will help avoid the confusion caused during the final days of the last election,” he added.
Nutting’s bill was endorsed by Maine Town & City Clerks Association, Maine Municipal Association and Gov. Paul LePage’s administration. No one opposed the bill during Wednesday’s hearing.
“Absentee voters should be held to the same standard,” said Susan Mooney, South Portland’s clerk who was speaking on behalf of the Maine Town & City Clerks Association. “Once their ballot has been accepted, they should not be able to change their mind.”
During his concession speech, Cutler said he believed the popularity of early voting in Maine contributed to his loss because so many people cast their ballots before his campaign’s surge in the final week.
More than 130,000 absentee ballots were cast last November, at least 50,000 of which were from registered Democrats.
“I think that when you start the election at a very early date, first of all, it deprives people of the time they need to make up their minds or change their