Cynthia Grier drops off her absentee ballot at Portland City Hall. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

More than 278,000 Maine voters have successfully returned their absentee ballots, a record for a statewide election and about 36 percent of 2016 turnout, according to data released by Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s office on Tuesday.

The massive spike in absentee voting comes amid the coronavirus pandemic and as concerns about the U.S. Postal Service pushed many to return ballots early. With two weeks to go until Election Day in 2016, just shy of 102,000 voters returned absentee ballots. Ultimately, more than 258,000 were cast that year.

Maine is outpacing the rest of the country in absentee voting so far, with the number of votes cast nationally equaling 25.5 percent of total turnout in the 2016 election, according to data collected by Michael McDonald, a political scientist at the University of Florida. Among New England states, only Vermont has seen a higher share than Maine.

Democrats continue to outpace Republicans in absentee voting this year in Maine and across the country, with Democratic voters here accounting for 51 percent of absentee ballot requests and 54 percent of ballots returned successfully so far, according to state data.

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Relatively few ballots have been rejected so far, with just 1,433 ballots rejected out of nearly 280,000 that have been marked as received, leading to a rejection rate of about 0.5 percent. Of ballots that were rejected, nearly half were because the ballot was spoiled.

The state has seen a total of 415,000 absentee ballot requests as of Tuesday, which is roughly 39 percent of the more than 1 million registered voters in Maine. Absentee ballots can be requested online through Oct. 29 and in-person absentee voting is available in most towns through Oct. 30. Ballots must be returned by 8 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3, to be counted.