Nearly 120,000 Mainers have already requested absentee ballots with two months until the November election, representing about 15 percent of turnout in the last presidential election, with Democrats making up a strong majority of early requests.
The first partisan breakdown of requests was released on Tuesday by Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s office. The July election set a record for a primary election with 185,000 voters returning ballots, accounting for nearly 60 percent of turnout, but the general election is expected to smash that with Dunlap projecting up to 463,000 absentee ballots alone.
It comes amid the coronavirus pandemic. Local officials have also advised voters to request their absentee ballots early for the November election due to concerns about delays with the U.S. Postal Service. The state is also pursuing alternative options for voters to return their ballots, including setting up ballot drop boxes. Ballots can also be returned to town offices.
The deadline to request an absentee ballot online or via telephone is Oct. 29, five days before the election. That is different from the primary, when Gov. Janet Mills allowed voters to request absentee ballots as late as Election Day, leading to a flurry of late absentee ballot requests that posed a challenge for some local officials.
The expanded use of absentee voting is not expected to largely delay the reporting of Maine election results. Mills issued an executive order last week giving cities and towns an expanded window to begin processing the ballots. Unlike in some states, absentee ballots in Maine must arrive by 8 p.m. on Election Day, when the polls close, to be counted.
About 60 percent of absentee ballot requests so far came from Democrats, who also outnumbered Republicans in absentee voting in the July primary. Voters in the 1st Congressional District, which skews more Democratic and has generally been hit harder by the coronavirus, have requested ballots at twice the rate of voters in the 2nd District.
Absentee voting has accounted for between a quarter and a third of overall turnout in the past few presidential elections in Maine, but both parties have been encouraging their members to vote absentee this year.
The voting method has become politicized as President Donald Trump has harshly criticized mail-in voting, claiming without evidence that it leads to fraud. But Republicans have indicated support for absentee systems like the one Maine uses, where ballots are not automatically mailed to registered voters but any voter can request a ballot for any reason. The first round of absentee ballots will be sent to voters on Oct. 2.