Shoppers pass by a mural outside the L.L. Bean flagship store, Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2020, in Freeport. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Good morning from Augusta.There are 20 days until the Nov. 3 election.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I have a real stake in this,” said Kristin Mozes of Unity, who is among the town’s residents concerned about a proposed Dunkin’ franchise on Main Street. “My life went from being very quiet to being a lot of town politics, all of a sudden.”

What we’re watching today

Maine’s workforce is projected to shrink over the coming decade, though the coronavirus pandemic is a wild card. The state’s economic forecast, released yesterday, predicts a decline in employment of nearly 16,000 by 2028 due in large part to Maine’s aging population.

Migration into Maine is the primary way to offset these shifts. In the past few years, people moving into Maine have offset the number of people leaving the workforce, but that will get more challenging as retirements continue to increase. The state sees hope on this front.

Very early evidence suggests that the coronavirus pandemic could shift things — the number of out-of-staters buying homes in Maine jumped significantly this summer, according to the Maine Association of Realtors. In August, for example, 707 single-family homes were purchased by out-of-state buyers compared to just 482 during the same month in 2019.

State economic forecasters noted that the increasing availability of remote work could push people to move to Maine, particularly if they were seeking to leave urban centers and move somewhere with a lower cost of living. But it will take time to see if temporary jumps lead to a long-term increase in people settling here.

Infrastructure challenges may also stand in the way. There have been pushes at the Legislative and ballot box level to expand the state’s rural broadband network, but fixing wide problems with slow speeds across rural swaths is an expensive proposition. Businesses and schools struggled with a lack of connectivity as society moved to remote work early on, and expanding that network is seen as a critical step in Maine’s economic future.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Maine’s coronavirus cases have been on the rebound as part of ‘inevitable’ rise,” Charles Eichacker, Bangor Daily News: “Even so, amid continual pressure from Maine’s hospitality industry, [Gov. Janet] Mills has continued to loosen some restrictions — but tighten others — that were meant to keep the virus from spreading. In late September, she finally added Massachusetts to the small list of northeastern states whose residents are exempt from quarantining for two weeks or needing a negative COVID-19 test when they travel to Maine.”

Despite new outbreaks, Maine is still doing well in national context with flatter increases than most other states. Maine still has the second-lowest per-capita case count over the course of the pandemic, just ahead of Vermont, according to a New York Times tracker. It is still among a group of five states where new cases are relatively low and are remaining low, despite outbreaks in announced in recent days at a York elementary school, an L.L. Bean fulfillment center in Freeport and among fire department officials at the VA Maine Healthcare System in Togus, just outside of Augusta.

— “28 prisoners went on hunger strike in Auburn to protest handling of COVID-19,” Callie Ferguson, BDN: “Prisoners of two minimum-security housing units refused meal trays from Monday morning to Tuesday afternoon in an effort to draw attention to their concerns about the availability of testing for COVID-19. They were also concerned about an increase in the number of sleeping cots in their units, which had stoked fears about their ability to socially distance, Sheriff Eric Samson said.”

The action came as jail populations in the state have been steadily returning to pre-pandemic levels. The number of incarcerated people dropped as the criminal justice system made efforts to keep populations low in the jails, where cramped conditions make it easy for the virus to spread. Those efforts have largely gone away as Maine’s courts have resumed trials and society has reopened.

— “GOP longshot in Maine’s 1st District questions mask use in debate with Chellie Pingree,” Caitlin Andrews, BDN: “The longshot Republican challenger in Maine’s 1st Congressional District maintained in a Tuesday debate that too many people are wearing masks in a bid to control the spread of the coronavirus, despite evidence that a significant number of cases are symptom-free.”

It was the second debate between the Democratic incumbent and her challenger in a sleepy race in the 1st District. Sixth-term U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat, led Republican physician Jay Allen by nearly 30 percentage points in the last BDN/Digital Research poll of Maine released last week. She has barely campaigned in this election cycle while Allen has raised just over $42,000 in his race so far.

Absentee voting numbers continue to climb

More than 132,000 Maine voters have now successfully returned absentee ballots, according to the latest state data. That is up significantly from the same time in 2016, when about 46,000 voters had successfully cast their ballots when there were three weeks to go until Election Day.

Democrats continue to significantly outnumber Republicans in terms of both the share of ballots requested and returned, accounting for about 53 percent of the more than 354,000 requests so far and nearly 60 percent of the more than 132,000 ballots that have been accepted.

That does not necessarily portend different levels of turnout. For the July primary, Republicans were more likely to vote in person. They just have some catching up to do with lots more Democratic votes likely in hand to date.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Jessica Piper and Caitlin Andrews and edited by Michael Shepherd. 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.

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