Supporters of an effort to repeal ranked-choice voting carry boxes of signed petitions into the Cross Building in Augusta in this June 15, 2020, file photo. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Good morning from Augusta. There are 61 days until Election Day.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I thought, ‘I could take this and update this. I could make it much more user-friendly, and do it for the [Maine State] Bicentennial,’” said mapmaker Jane Crosen, who updated an 1881 atlas of Hancock County and published it in July. “Somebody’s got to keep this thing going. And I guess that somebody is me.” Here’s your soundtrack

What we’re watching today

With time being of the essence, the issue of ranked-choice voting before Maine’s high court today will look different from the court battles seen this year. Maine has seen court battles over the constitutionality of its ranked-choice voting law before. The latest legal battle over the method is about whether the Maine Republican Party got enough signatures to put a people’s veto on the November ballot that would get rid of a new law expanding ranked-choice voting to presidential races. It will be argued before Maine’s high court at 2 p.m. Thursday.

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, a Democrat, believes the party is still 56 signatures short of what is needed to get a people’s veto concerning the use of the voting method during presidential races on the November ballot, according to court filings. But he needs to prove a judge erred in determining signatures from two circulators who were not registered to vote in the towns when they began helping collect signatures were valid before printing ballots.

To do that, he is asking the state’s highest court to delay the judge’s decision immediately. If Republicans make the ballot, the method won’t be used in the presidential election. Dunlap’s office has had to design 350 different styles of ballots for the upcoming election, and those could be printed within days if justices on the Maine Supreme Judicial Court agree with Dunlap. 

The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, which led passage of the initial law, has also asked for a delay. Three Republicans, naturally, have opposed the delay.

The supreme court has 30 days under state law to issue a ruling, but the state says that will be too late to print ballots. Absentee ballots are supposed to be available by early October. The method has survived two referendum votes before, but how fast the justices choose to act will be the final word on whether the people’s veto and ranked-choice voting in the presidential race are on the ballot in November.

The Maine politics top 3

— “People are still stuck in Maine’s unemployment ‘vortex,’ while multi-state leaders haven’t met,” Josh Keefe, Bangor Daily News: “Unemployment experts and lawmakers did not know enough about the multi-state consortium, arranged under the [former Gov. Paul] LePage administration, to say what impact, if any, it had or could have on Maine’s response to the pandemic. The labor department declined to make Maine’s representative to the consortium available for an interview and declined a request to interview the state’s labor commissioner.”

More than 67,000 Mainers filed continued claims for unemployment insurance last week, while another 1,300 filed new claims. Though unemployment numbers have declined slightly over the past month, the number of individuals currently receiving benefits is still more than double than at the peak of the Great Recession. Since mid-March, the state has paid out more than $1.4 billion in unemployment benefits.

— “GOP faces uphill battle to take back Maine Legislature amid focus on national races,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “With two months until Election Day, Republicans face financial and environmental disadvantages. Democratic groups have far more money than Republicans with more Democrats running uncontested. A Bangor Daily News poll last month found that Democrats had an 8-percentage point edge on Republicans on a generic legislative ballot.”

Democrats are also outnumbering Republicans in absentee ballot requests so far. About 60 percent of requests for absentee ballots thus far have come from Democrats, who typically outnumber Republicans in requests, though the disparity so far this year is greater than in previous elections. After a push from the national party, Republicans are making an effort to change that this year by making social media and mail pushes to members, but any success was not reflected in the early figures.

— “COVID-19 spread through York County Jail where staff weren’t screened for symptoms, didn’t wear masks,” Charles Eichacker, BDN: “Those are among the factors that state corrections officials now say may have contributed to an outbreak that has infected at least 85 people connected to the lock-up, including 46 inmates, 22 staff and 17 of their household members, according to the latest state and county figures.”

Despite a large outbreak that may have stemmed from one wedding, Maine still has the second-lowest case counts in the U.S. The state is second to only Vermont in the share of cases per 100,000 residents, according to The New York Times. Cases have ticked up slightly in recent weeks after the jail outbreak that the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has said may have stemmed from an August wedding in Millinocket. 

There have been 25 cases per day on average over the past week, up 9 percent from the previous one. Over that week, however, Maine is still third-lowest in per-capita cases, jumping only above New Hampshire by that measure. 

Up on the air

Maine’s competitive U.S. Senate race has dominated the airwaves so far, but more congressional and presidential ads are on their way. Former state Rep. Dale Crafts, a Republican challenging Rep. Jared Golden in the 2nd District, announced his first TV ad of the general election cycle yesterday. The ad is largely biographical, discussing Crafts’ motorcycle accident that left him paralyzed and highlighting his legislative record on guns and taxes.

Golden, who has a significant financial advantage over Crafts, launched his own ads several weeks ago, with several upbeat spots featuring his wife, a Bath Iron Works worker and his 9-hour truck commute from Lewiston to Washington, D.C., highlighting his labor credentials and independent voting record in Congress.

The Democratic presidential nominee is also jumping in on the fun. Former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign will be going on air in Maine for the first time next week, according to Medium Buying. Biden trailed President Donald Trump in early organizational infrastructure here, but he has had a healthy lead in statewide polling, while the pair have been roughly tied in the 2nd District, which Trump won by 10 points in 2016. Here’s your soundtrack.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Caitlin Andrews and Jessica Piper. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, email clumm@bangordailynews.com (we’re setting up a new subscriber page soon) to subscribe to it via email.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but contact the political team at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, candrews@bangordailynews.com or jpiper@bangordailynews.com.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...