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The recent election in Georgia, where some voters waited in line for five hours or more to cast a ballot, has raised concerns about elections in other states — including Maine — where a primary election will be held on July 14.
There are many differences between Georgia and Maine, a big one being that elections here are controlled more by local clerks than state and county officials. Another is that mass voter suppression efforts thankfully are not happening in Maine. But, a shortage of poll workers and ballots could mar elections here.
Overall, Maine is prepared for the primary, which was rescheduled from June 9 because of the coronavirus pandemic, said Secretary of State Matt Dunlap. But, there are some reasons to worry, especially as the virus continues to pose a threat.
While we and others pushed for an all-mail election, that may not have been feasible. So, many voters are likely to show up at their polling places on July 14.
This has left election officials wondering how many ballots will be needed. More concerning, there may be a shortage of poll workers and volunteers.
The ballot question is the easiest to resolve. Although primary elections often have low turnout, it is hard to predict what will happen this year, Dunlap told the BDN in a recent interview.
Before the March 3 presidential primary, the secretary of state predicted that turnout would be about 15 percent, which was in line with previous years. More than 40 percent of registered voters cast ballots.
The July election includes a Republican primary in the 2nd Congressional District, where former state legislator and businessman Dale Crafts, former state senator Eric Brakey, and Adrienne Bennett, who was former Gov. Paul LePage’s press secretary, will face off to run against Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Golden in November. Three Democrats — attorney Bre Kidman, activist and small business owner Betsy Sweet, and House Speaker Sara Gideon — are seeking the party’s nod to challenge U.S. Sen. Collins in the fall. There are also two bond questions — a $15 million bond for broadband and $105 million for transportation — on the ballot.
Already, absentee ballot requests are twice as high as last year and the Secretary of State’s Office has printed more. The office has already ordered more ballots for in-person voting.
Finding people to staff polling places could be more problematic. Many of those who volunteer at the polls fall into high risk categories for coronavirus transmission.
That’s left some communities scrambling to find people to staff voting locales.
As of early last week, Portland still needed more than 120 workers to open all 11 of the city’s polling locations.
If it cannot find enough, the city clerk’s office has asked for permission to consolidate polling places, going from 11 to six. The city council postponed a decision on the request until Monday.
In the meantime, the city began advertising the $12 an hour jobs and encouraging local political organizations to encourage people to sign up. Quickly, more than 100 people applied for the positions.
There are two ways you can help ensure a smooth election in your community. One is to volunteer to staff polling locations, if you are not in a high-risk category. The Secretary of State’s Office was allocated $120,000 in federal funds, through the CARES Act, to purchase personal protective equipment for poll workers and volunteers.
The second is to cast an absentee ballot, which, thanks to an executive order from the governor, you can request through Election Day. You can request one through the Secretary of State’s Office or your town office. A completed ballot can be mailed in or dropped off at your town office or polling place. They must be turned in by 8 p.m. on July 14.
Voting absentee reduces the risk of coronavirus transmission and relieves stress on those who are staffing polling places.
The July 14 election will in many ways be a dress rehearsal for the Nov. 3 election. Addressing problems now could go a long way to ensuring a smooth election in November, when turnout is likely to be especially high.