J. Cressica Brazier has voted absentee often since she graduated from the top of her class at John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor in 1996 and never knew of a problem with her ballot being counted. But this year she believes she became one of the few people in Maine to potentially have their ballot lost in the mail.
Brazier, 42, who is finishing up her doctorate remotely on the Waldo County island of Islesboro, requested her ballot from the town where she is registered to vote, Dedham, on Aug. 27, with plenty of time to spare. The Dedham Town Office indeed put the ballot in the mail to her, the state’s tracking website showed. It was in the possession of the U.S. Postal Service on Oct. 5. What happened after that remains a mystery.
“I always assumed that my ballot was accepted before, without incident. Now I can’t make that assumption ever again,” Brazier said.
Though Brazier’s experience is rare, it underscores the anxiety and uncertainty that many voters may be feeling during an election featuring record shares of absentee voting during the coronavirus pandemic and amid problems with the Postal Service. More people are lending philosophical importance to the election, according to the Pew Research Center, with an increasing share of voters now saying politics is a struggle between right and wrong.
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But despite the surge in absentee voting, lost ballots don’t appear to be much of a problem, and there are many options for those who believe their ballot disappeared on the way to them.
Kristen Muszynski, a spokesperson for Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s office, said she has heard of three people — not including Brazier — who potentially had their ballot lost in the mail. One ultimately received theirs after a delay. She told the two others to follow up with the postal service.
“It doesn’t seem to be common,” Muszynski said.
If people believe their ballot went missing, they can pick up another ballot at their town office and vote absentee there. Friday is the last day to do that if one’s local town office is open. Otherwise, people can vote in person on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3.
If people already have their absentee ballot but haven’t returned it yet, they should do so as soon as possible, Muszynski said. Though they have until 8 p.m. on Election Day to do so, “bring it back now,” she said, to avoid creating delays on Tuesday.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service did not reply to emailed questions about what could potentially cause ballots to go missing.
In Brazier’s case, there were a couple things that might have confused postal workers, she reasoned. Her mother, who also requested an absentee ballot, has the same first and last name, and they both live at the same address. But they have different middle initials, and Brazier wondered why the post office wouldn’t deliver the mail it has, especially during an election.
Brazier’s mother got her ballot, sent it back on Oct. 20 and verified that it arrived at the Dedham Town Office two days later. But Brazier’s ballot still hadn’t arrived in Islesboro. She started to question whether something had gone wrong.
With the election nearing, Brazier decided to request a duplicate ballot on Oct. 22. She received the envelope, postmarked Oct. 23, on Oct. 26. She mailed it back the same day, and Dedham registered receipt of the ballot two days later, Oct. 28. She had finally cast her vote.
However, she has still not received the first ballot, she said, though there is always a chance it will show up later.
“If I hadn’t stayed on top of this, and I hadn’t had my mother here to know her ballot arrived in the right way … I might not have known to call the town office and request a second ballot,” Brazier said. “There are all these steps I had to go through to make the system work … or else my vote wouldn’t have been counted.”
For those who do vote in person on Election Day, expect lines and expect to wait outside, Muszynski said, given that inside occupancy will be limited due to COVID-19 restrictions.
This story was produced with a tip from ProPublica’s Electionland project. Complete this form to share your election experience with us so ProPublica and the BDN can investigate.