Secretary of State Matt Dunlap oversees the recounting of ballots in Maine's 2nd Congressional District, Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018, in Augusta, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

AUGUSTA, Maine — The state is launching a coordinated effort to give poll workers quicker access to state lawyers and public safety officials as fears of Election Day disruptions rise around the country.

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, a Democrat, said the state is creating a virtual “situation room” that election clerks can call to have legal questions answered or route police to handle anyone disrupting voting. The group will include staff from Attorney General Aaron Frey’s office, the Maine Department of Public Safety and the Maine Emergency Management Agency.

Dunlap said the state typically does not have an expedited process for getting clerks in touch with state officials on Election Day and does not expect to see disruptions at the polls. The measure is a precaution as other states such as California and police around the country are preparing for potential disruptions at the culmination of a contentious election on Tuesday. Frey’s office sent out guidelines on voter intimidation in mid-October.

Other states, such as the battleground state of Pennsylvania, are setting up voter intimidation hotlines if people need guidance. Those measures come after President Donald Trump, a Republican, urged supporters to watch their polling locations “very carefully” in case of voter fraud, which is exceedingly rare across the country.

Poll wardens have the ability to request someone leave a polling place if they are creating a disturbance. But there are a lot of ways that can occur, Dunlap said, such as clashes between petition gatherers or someone trying to dissuade a person from signing a petition.

“This is a strange year and we need to be ready for anything,” Dunlap said. “Odds are we won’t even have to use it.”

In-person turnout at the polls for Tuesday’s presidential election is expected to be lighter than in previous years as absentee voting has surged to record highs during the coronavirus pandemic. As of Sunday, almost 500,000 absentee ballots have been accepted with nearly 27,000 outstanding, according to data from Dunlap’s office.

In addition, Dunlap said his office is seeking guidance from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention on how to advise officials if a voter shows up to a polling place exhibiting symptoms of the virus. The state has instituted social distancing requirements for polling locations and has provided personal protective equipment and barriers meant to spread voters out and minimize contact.

The Maine Superior Court system will have judges ready in the event a same-day lawsuit is filed, Dunlap said. That is normal. For example, a judge granted an emergency order on the day of the presidential primary forcing Portland to allow the Maine Republican Party to gather signatures for a ballot initiative.

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