AUGUSTA, Maine — There appears to be as much interest in and confusion about Election Day protocol this year as there is about the issues on the ballot.
Voters around the state already have begun requesting absentee ballots in advance of the Nov. 8 election during which Mainers will be asked to decide the fate of Election Day registration, whether to expand gambling to Lewiston, Biddeford and Washington County and whether to update the process for congressional redistricting.
This year, with the passage of LD 1376, absentee ballot requests will be accepted only until Thursday, Nov. 3, two business days before Election Day. Previously, voters could request absentee ballots up to and including Election Day.
The other major element of LD 1376, of course, is the elimination of Election Day registration. However, because the people’s veto effort was successful in getting a repeal of the law on the ballot, that provision is on hold pending the outcome of Question 1.
That means voters can register on Nov. 8 and vote that same day.
“That’s probably the question we’re getting the most,” said Bangor City Clerk Patti Dubois. “The people that have been coming in so far requesting absentee ballots are familiar with the issues and are ready to vote. The people I worry about are those that are confused or unaware of the process.”
Another point of confusion appears to be casting provisional ballots, particularly as the supporters and opponents of Question 1 continue to release information — and sometimes misinformation — in an attempt to sway voters.
Caitlin Chamberlain, a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s Office, said the federal Help America Vote Act contains language that allows a voter to cast a provisional ballot if they show up on Election Day and their name is not on the list of registrants.
Maine currently does not have a provisional ballot process because it’s not needed. If someone is accidentally removed from the voting rolls prior to Election Day, they can just register that day and go vote.
LD 1376 did created a provisional ballot process, but that only goes into effect if voters uphold the elimination of Election Day registration. The process accounts for people who go to the polls on Election Day and find they are not registered. In such cases, they could cast a provisional ballot, which would be counted if it was determined that their removal from the voting rolls was a mistake.
Despite the confusion and the summer-long discussion in Augusta about potential voter fraud, municipal officials have said things are business as usual as Election Day approaches.
“We’re going to try to be very careful to make sure that they do provide all the necessary documents and try to impress on them the meaning of residency,” Orono Town Clerk Wanda Thomas said. “But whatever has come out of the Secretary of State’s office hasn’t really changed things for us.”
Dubois said her Election Day preparation has not changed.
“I think we’ve run a tight ship anyway but there has been no directive from the state to do anything differently,” she said.
Interest has been strong in Bangor, Dubois said, but that might not necessarily mirror statewide interest. Bangor has city council and school committee seats up for grabs, a citizens initiative on whether to overturn a council decision consolidating Bangor’s emergency dispatch services and a Penobscot County-wide question about adding table games at Hollywood Slots.
Orono residents will weigh in on table games and elect local officials, too, but Thomas said interest so far has been average to below average.