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Maine will vote on Tuesday in a primary election that was delayed and shaped by the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s a guide to what’s on the ballot, how to vote and how the results will be counted.
What’s on the ballot?
Maine will officially be nominating all party candidates for Congress and the Legislature on Tuesday. The most prominent races are two three-way contests in the Democratic primary for the right to face Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins in November and a Republican primary for the nomination to face Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat from the 2nd Congressional District.
There are also a host of local legislative races. There are 25 contested primaries marked by a large number of open seats and newcomers in solid blue areas including Portland and Bangor. Only eight Republican primaries are contested, with former Gov. Paul LePage endorsing three insurgent candidates against ones backed by the Republican caucus in the Maine Senate.
There are also two statewide bond questions. Question 1 will ask Mainers to borrow $15 million for broadband expansion to be matched by $30 million in federal and other funds. Question 2 is a perennial transportation bond at a price tag of $105 million to be matched by $275 million.
You may have local races in your cities and towns as well. Many are voting to ratify school budgets, while some have candidate elections for town councils or selectman seats.
Who can vote in Maine primaries and how do you register?
Mainers who will be 18 years of age or older before Nov. 3, 2020, can register to vote on or before Election Day in their cities or towns. Unenrolled voters can vote in any non-primary elections or can join a party to vote in a primary of their choice. The deadline has passed for people to switch parties to vote in another primary.
The state also has same-day voter registration, meaning that you can register at the polling place on Election Day if you are a new voter, have recently moved or are unenrolled and want to join a party. Bring identification and proof of residence in your city or town if you are a new voter.
Can I still request an absentee ballot?
Yes. State and local officials have encouraged absentee voting because of the virus and a record number have requested ballots for a Maine primary. Gov. Janet Mills issued an executive order earlier this year abolishing a deadline to request absentee ballots. They can now be requested up to and on Election Day, though they must be returned by 8 p.m. today to count.
If you have not returned your ballot yet, you should deliver it to your municipal office in most cases. If you would like to vote absentee, you should go to your municipal office, request and receive a ballot, fill it out as soon as possible and turn it back in.
What will be different at the polls due to the virus?
First of all, your polling place may have changed since the last election because many cities and towns have consolidated locations. The state offers a tool you can use to enter your address and find your polling place. You can also call your municipal office for more information.
There will be fewer people voting in person because of the crush of absentee ballots, but you still should allow more time to cast your ballot if you are voting in person. Waits will be longer than usual and layouts may be different because of capacity limits, distancing measures and sanitizing procedures, according to a guide from Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s office.
How will long will ranked-choice races take to decide?
The races for U.S. Senate, the 2nd District and legislative primaries with three or more candidates will be decided by ranked-choice voting if no candidate gets 50 percent of first-place votes on Election Day. Ranked-choice tabulations are conducted in Augusta. It took eight days past the election to determine winners in the 2018 primaries.
The virus is not expected to further delay ranked-choice counts, according to Dunlap spokesperson Kristen Muszynski. She said if ranked tabulations are required, couriers are expected to begin collecting memory sticks containing ballot information and paper ballots from the towns on Thursday and begin taking them to Augusta.
How can I follow the results?
The Bangor Daily News is the only Maine news organization that collects election results independently. You can watch results come in live on our dedicated webpage while using the panel to navigate results by county and municipality. The BDN and our partners at Decision Desk HQ will project winners in statewide and congressional contests.
Barring late floods of absentee ballots that could delay counts, the virus is not expected to delay counts too much. Most large cities and towns should report results on election night, while outlying results typically come in over the course of the next day. We should have a good sense of most races by 1 a.m., but do not quote us on that. This is uncharted territory.