Since the announcement of the state of civil emergency in March, we at the secretary of state’s office have been figuring out how to conduct a smooth election that has the vibrancy of the public discussion about our future with the integrity of a secure process in the time of a pandemic.
In these pages and on social media, we’ve seen some enthused suggestions and some strident demands about one reform or another to ensure that your voice will be heard. Patriotic citizens have argued for sending every citizen an absentee ballot application, or an absentee ballot itself, arguing for online voter registration and even online voting, for or against all-mail balloting, and a host of other major reforms.
We share the same goal with those who are offering these suggestions: to ensure that every qualified citizen who wishes to vote is able to do so, and to have the assurance that their vote will be counted.
To that end, instead of implementing untested, uncharted and unfunded new procedures during this time when we are already facing new challenges, elections officials across the state have been asking each other, “What do we already have in our tool chest to work with?”
The answer has been simpler than some would expect. Maine has really, really good election laws, for starters, and complementing that are the truly devoted election officials at the local level.
Fifty years ago, the NASA lunar mission Apollo 13 was three-quarters of the way to the moon when an explosion in the command module caused the astronauts to lose most of the oxygen supply for their trip. They couldn’t exactly pull over, stop at a resupply depot and get more oxygen tanks. They survived the harrowing ordeal with the ingenuity of engineers who figured out how to turn a spacecraft of adventure into a lifeboat, working with only what they had at hand, and got them home safely.
We’ve faced our own Apollo 13 scenarios in the Elections Division through this pandemic, and we feel confident that this election will be a successful mission.
The biggest change in the primary this year is that it will be conducted on July 14 instead of the first Tuesday in June, as described in law. The other major changes include removing any and all barriers to absentee balloting; this includes the two business day blackout for anyone to obtain an absentee ballot before the election (for this election, voters can request an absentee ballot even on Election Day, in person) and the deadline for mail-in voter registration, which has been shortened from a 21-day deadline to seven days.
We’ve also made arrangements for personal protective equipment to be available to all poll workers, thanks to Congress allotting more than $3 million in the CARES Act to Maine. And while we’re encouraging folks to make use of Maine’s tried-and-true absentee ballot process, we anticipate that anyone who wishes to vote in person will be able to go to their polling place as usual.
Maine will continue accepting in-person voter registrations up to and including Election Day, but again we encourage folks to go ahead and complete that simple process ahead of time to avoid standing in lines at the polls or the town office on Election Day.
We don’t have electronic voter registration, just as the astronauts of Apollo 13 didn’t have a lunar resupply space station orbiting the moon. Nonetheless, the tools we have work really well, and we believe that the provisions already in place and modified by the governor for this election will allow every qualified citizen to vote without impediment or fear — and with the confidence that their voices will, indeed, be heard.
Matt Dunlap is Maine’s secretary of state.