Good morning from Augusta. There are 67 days until Election Day.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I wanted to make the last 15 days of summer count, instead of wasting time indoors on our phones or in front of the TV,” said Bangor High School student Evan Soucy, who with friends decided to do 15 things he had never done before in 15 days before starting junior year. “We’ve all been home since March, so we really wanted to get out and try new things.” Here’s your soundtrack.
What we’re watching today
Republicans are making an absentee voting push ahead of a pandemic-altered election. The Maine Republican Party followed up a Facebook push for absentee voting this week with at least one round of mailed absentee ballot requests to a “substantial list” of members, said Jason Savage, the state party’s executive director. He declined to confirm targeting details.
It comes ahead of an coronavirus-altered election in which Secretary of State Matt Dunlap has estimated that 60 percent of ballots — or potentially 463,000 or so based on 2016 turnout — may come as absentees. The Republican mailer quotes Trump saying he is “in favor of absentee” and looks designed to soothe people wary of voting this way.
The president has cast doubt on mail-in voting by falsely saying that it risks wide levels of fraud. While states are expanding mail-in options due to the pandemic, only five states conduct all-mail elections in which ballots are mailed to all voters. Maine is in another group of 29 states that allow no-excuse absentee voting, where one must request a ballot. That means there is a difference between absentee and full-on mail voting, but it is a small distinction here.
Democrats have done better than Republicans in getting absentee votes and any gap could matter more this year. Republicans have lagged Democrats in their share of absentee votes going back every major Maine election to 2014. They have done better when the gap is smaller. In the Republican wave six years ago, there was a 3-percentage-point gap. There was a 13-point gap in a neutral 2016 election and a 15-point gap in the Democratic 2018 wave.
Political parties like absentee voting because it allows them to better target get-out-the-vote efforts. In an election that will largely be decided by a record number of absentee voters, any large gap between the parties could hurt the lagging party more. We will not see the first breakdown of requests by party until after Labor Day and that is highly anticipated.
An earlier version of this item used too high of a turnout estimate for the 2020 election. Based on 2016 turnout, the secretary of state’s estimated share of absentee voters would equal roughly 463,000 early ballots.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Maine has now suspended license of inn that hosted Millinocket-area wedding reception,” Charles Eichacker, Bangor Daily News: “But after a recent inspection found the inn was still violating restrictions meant to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the state temporarily suspended its license, according to Jeanne Lambrew, commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.”
New details continue to emerge about the event connected to 87 cases of the virus and one death. Wedding guests had their temperatures taken at the door and some out-of-state guests brought proof that they had tested negative, according to a state report. But guests were not generally wearing masks and the indoor gathering exceeded the state’s 50-person limit.
The wedding highlights the possibility of asymptomatic transmission as Maine continues to expand testing. State health officials said Thursday that people who may have been exposed to the virus should still get tested after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its guidance earlier this week, which alarmed many public health experts. Maine has allowed anyone who thinks they may have been exposed to the virus to get a test.
That will continue to get easier as testing capacity here has continued to expand, with the state announcing Thursday that it would be quadrupling the capacity of its Augusta lab thanks to a new mobile lab. Abbott Laboratories, which has manufacturing facilities in Scarborough and Westbrook, also announced this week that it would be hiring 1,200 people there as it rolls out a $5 testing kit that yields quick results.
— “Ad Watch: Ad against Susan Collins on Big Pharma blows up small parts of her record,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “While it is accurate in asserting that Collins has not supported some accountability provisions from Democrats, she has also supported measures responding to the opioid crisis. The ad’s most explosive claim — that Collins profited off the epidemic — is based on no more than a few of her husband’s stock sales that the senator has said the couple does not control.”
— “Health insurance rates for individual coverage to decrease in the coming year,” Nora Flaherty, Maine Public: “[Maine Insurance Superintendent Eric] Cioppa attributed much of the rate decrease to the state’s reinsurance program, which pays some of the costs associated with higher-risk patients and Medicaid expansion under Gov. Janet Mills, which this year subsidized about 85 percent of the insurance that people bought on the individual marketplace.”
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd and Jessica Piper. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, email email@example.com (we’re setting up a new subscriber page soon) to subscribe to it via email.