The coronavirus-altered Nov. 3 election is prompting a record wave of absentee ballots and a busy season for the municipal clerks who are charged with the massive task of making sure ballots can be easily cast and counted as quickly as possible.
The Bangor Daily News held a Tuesday virtual event with three of them — Lisa Goodwin of Bangor, Darci Wheeler of Bath and Jacob Gran of Bucksport — and readers. The three debunked misinformation and answered specific questions about how ballots are stored and counted.
Here are some of the questions and answers from that session, with edits for clarity. If you have more questions about the candidates or how to vote, read the BDN’s voter guide or enter questions in the form at the bottom of this page. Our team will answer questions up until Election Day.
Absentee ballots became available on Friday. If somebody requested one up until last week, when will they receive it in the mail?
Goodwin: We had almost 8,000 absentee ballots to fill out and the last of those went out [Tuesday]. So before the end of this week, any requests for last week will be filled, most definitely.
Wheeler: I’ve been telling most of my residents that if you’ve requested it up until this past week, that they all went out yesterday and that they should see it by the end of the week.
Read more about voting in 2020
Can you go through the chain of custody for these ballots? When they come in, where do they go? When will you start processing them in your different places?
Gran: When they come into our office, they inevitably are given to me and they are logged into our system. The ballots are filed alphabetically and at the end of the night, those are put into a vault. We will start processing them the Friday before the election, but results aren’t tabulated until Election Day.
Can you discuss the lengths clerks go to in order to ensure someone does not get two ballots?
Wheeler: We have people that have actually submitted five applications for absentee ballots. So for each person that has submitted five applications, that’s five times we’ve checked their record to make sure that they requested one. We don’t know whether they have or not because we’re not going to remember from person to person with all of these requests coming in at one time. So each time we get any requests, we go through the same process as if it was their first one and we have to hold on to those as duplicate records.
What are some of the things that are confusing voters this year?
Gran: A big phone call that I was getting is that voters had received letters from an organization saying that somebody in their household wasn’t registered to vote. I think in every case, the individual who was calling in, they or their family member was, in fact, registered to vote. Anybody would be concerned if you receive a letter saying that you aren’t registered to vote when you voted every year for the past however-many years.
Wheeler: There were stamps being sent out [by a political group and a mailer said] your ballot hasn’t been received yet. I hadn’t even mailed them at that time and that ended up being cross-information. Everybody was calling saying, I didn’t get my ballot.
Gran: We might add that oftentimes the town’s return address is on these letters that are being sent to residents. It makes the residents think as though it’s the town or the city that’s sending them out. It’s actually coming from a group or party.
Do you think that voting absentee is what the future looks like?
Goodwin: I see more people feeling comfortable with it as they see how the process works. I don’t think we’ll ever do away with in-person voting on Election Day. I think that a lot of people really enjoy that and it’s just part of the American way for us. I just don’t see us ever moving completely away and doing like, all-electronic voting or something. Personally, I wouldn’t like electronic voting because I want that paper proof.
Gran: I personally love voting in person. I think I would be very sad if the option was no longer available.