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Democrats are dominating absentee ballot requests in Maine ahead of next week’s primary as a new poll showed a significant majority of Republicans intend to vote on Election Day in the 2nd District, signaling a stark partisan divide on one major coronavirus precaution.
As of Tuesday, nearly 180,000 Maine voters had requested absentee ballots, a record for a primary after state and local officials widely pushed absentee voting as an option ahead of the July 14 primary, citing the desire to reduce crowds to protect public health during the pandemic.
Maine has long had no-reason-needed absentee voting, but officials made the system more accessible ahead of the primary. Under an order from Gov. Janet Mills, voters can request absentee ballots through Election Day. They must be returned by the time polls close at 8 p.m.
Democrats typically outpace Republicans in absentee ballot requests. During the 2018 general election, about 80,000 Democrats voted absentee compared to 53,000 Republicans. However, the differences are more striking this year.
More than 120,000 Democrats have requested absentee ballots compared to just 32,000 Republicans, according to the secretary of state’s office. Those numbers suggest strong turnout among Democrats. Just over 132,000 voted in the party’s 2018 gubernatorial primary.
While the difference between parties may be driven by the Democratic U.S. Senate primary, there is still a wide disparity in the 2nd District, where both parties have primaries. Only 15,000 Republicans there have requested absentee ballots, or roughly 10 percent of active Republican voters. Among Democrats, 36,000 have requested ballots, or 23 percent of active voters.
A poll conducted by SurveyUSA and paid for by the electoral reform group FairVote in the first week of July found that 79 percent of likely Republican voters in the 2nd District classified as “likely voters” planned to vote on Election Day. Less than 35,000 voted in the district’s last competitive congressional primary in 2014, so the poll suggests heavy Tuesday turnout.
Differences between Democrats and Republicans in Maine have emerged as President Donald Trump has argued against the expanded use of mail-in ballots while making unsubstantiated claims about potential voter fraud. Absentee voting is different from mail-in voting, a system in some states where all voters are sent ballots regardless of whether they requested them.
Most prominent Republican politicians in Maine have not been critical of the state’s long-accepted absentee ballot system. The Maine Republican Party’s official website links to the state’s absentee ballot request page. Former state Sen. Eric Brakey, one of the Republicans running for Congress in the 2nd District, shared the link in an email to supporters last month.
Trump, who voted absentee in Florida’s presidential primary earlier this year, has derided mail-in voting, though he has said that he distinguishes between mail-in elections and absentee systems, like the one in Maine in which voters must request ballots that can be filled out at a town office, mailed in or otherwise returned to municipal officials.
The SurveyUSA poll found widespread opposition among Republican voters in Maine to expanding mail-in voting, with 51 percent of respondents saying it would be a “terrible” idea while another 21 percent said it would be a bad idea.