By the time in-person absentee voting ended Thursday, nearly 25 percent of all registered voters in Maine had requested absentee ballots, putting the state on pace to eclipse the record set in 2008.

In Portland alone, the city had accepted 14,088 absentee ballots by midafternoon, far ahead of the 7,123 absentee ballots cast in 2012 and the 8,699 absentee ballots cast in 2008.

For most, the allure of voting early is convenience. Some people hope to avoid what they expect to be a circus-like atmosphere at polling places on Election Day. And for a few, they just want to get it over with.

“I didn’t expect such a long line, but I’m sure it’s better than it will be next week,” said Belle Hilmer, 27, who waited at Portland City Hall for about 20 minutes Thursday morning before voting. “This presidential election has not been what I would call beautiful, but I think that only makes voting more important.”

According to the latest numbers available from the Maine Secretary of State’s Office at the end of the day Wednesday, 234,776 people had requested absentee ballots. That number could increase slightly because most town offices were staying open late Thursday. In 2008, when Maine set a record for absentee voting, 244,239 ballots were requested and 238,940 were returned. The state has roughly 995,000 registered voters.

In Maine, residents technically don’t vote early, they cast absentee ballots in person. The difference is that Maine’s absentee ballots are sealed in envelopes and can’t be processed until a few days before the election.

The line to vote in Portland was long for most of the day Thursday, the last day to vote absentee in person before Election Day on Tuesday, said city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin. As of 6 p.m. Thursday, people were waiting up to an hour in line, WCSH-TV reported.

STEADY RISE IN U.S. EARLY VOTING

The stark contrast between Trump and Clinton has meant many voters have had their minds made up for some time.

Neil Saward, 43, a recently naturalized U.S. citizen from England, joked that he picked quite an election for casting his first ballot.

Theo Brossman stands about midway through a long line of early voters Thursday at Portland City Hall. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Theo Brossman stands about midway through a long line of early voters Thursday at Portland City Hall. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“We just had a pretty big vote over there,” he said, referring to the vote by the United Kingdom to break away from the European Union – the decision commonly known as Brexit. “I hope we don’t make that kind of mistake here.”

Saward and his partner, Anny Fenton, 31, are both supporting Democrat Hillary Clinton for president. They said they made their decision some time ago, so they saw no sense in waiting. And they expected to be in Massachusetts next week.

Asked if it made her feel better that there was such strong interest in voting even before Election Day, Fenton said, “Not really.”

“Honestly, I don’t think I’ll feel better until it’s over,” she said.

Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political scientist and expert on early voting data who runs a well-known blog called the United States Election Project, said that as of midday Thursday, 34 million people had already voted in the 2016 election. Many states were on pace to eclipse early voting totals from 2012. Texas, for instance, was up 36 percent from four years ago.

Torianne Pease reviews a sample ballot while waiting in line to vote at Portland City Hall. In Maine, voters technically don't vote early, they cast absentee ballots in person. The ballots are then sealed in envelopes and can't be processed until a few days before the election. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Torianne Pease reviews a sample ballot while waiting in line to vote at Portland City Hall. In Maine, voters technically don’t vote early, they cast absentee ballots in person. The ballots are then sealed in envelopes and can’t be processed until a few days before the election. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

In Augusta, Clerk Roberta Fogg said despite the rain Thursday, the City Center office had a consistent flow of people through the doors.

“We are issuing ballots right and left with lines out the door all day long,” Fogg said. “There are people coming in and voting in our presence, so our numbers are only going to go up.”

Fogg said the office was open until 6 p.m. Thursday and she expected to be serving voters up right until closing time.

As of 4 p.m. Thursday, 25.5 percent of all registered voters in Augusta had requested ballots. Of the 3,468 ballots that had been issued, 2,941 had been returned. Fogg said there are nearly 13,600 registered voters

In Waterville, City Clerk Patti Dubois said voter turnout for absentee ballots was “steady all day” Thursday. By 3 p.m. the office had distributed nearly 3,100 absentee ballots and had 2,600 returned. In 2012, the Waterville City Clerk’s Office received 2,300 absentee ballots.

“I think it’s the fact that there’s a presidential race with no incumbent and the ballot issues that are really bringing people out,” Dubois said.

Voters have until 8 p.m. Tuesday to return their absentee ballots.

Farmington Town Clerk Leanne Dickey said Thursday afternoon that turnout was slower than in the last presidential election in 2012, as 900 ballots had been cast so far, compared to about 1,300 last time.

In Skowhegan, Town Clerk Gail Pelotte said Thursday that 1,138 absentee ballots had been filed, but that number did not include requests that were filed Thursday. For the presidential election in 2012, a total of 1,062 absentee ballots were cast.

“It seems like it’s been heavier this year,” Pelotte said. “It’s somewhat of an increase.”

Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political scientist and expert on early voting data who runs a well-known blog called the United States Election Project, said that as of midday Thursday, 34 million people had already voted in the 2016 election. Many states were on pace to eclipse early voting totals from 2012. Texas, for instance, was up 36 percent from four years ago.

McDonald said there has been a steady rise in early voting across the country as more states make it easy to do. States used to require an excuse for voting absentee, but several, including Maine, have eliminated that provision. Nationwide, 29.7 percent of all votes were cast before Election Day in 2008. Four years later, that increased to 31.6 percent. Projections put the percentage of early voters for this election at potentially higher than 35 percent.

PARTIES DIFFER ON VOTE TIMING

Many states, although not all, have shown Democrats with an edge in early voting, which could be good news for Clinton. As of late Wednesday, nearly 80,000 registered Democrats had voted early in Maine, compared with about 50,000 Republicans and 52,000 unenrolled voters.

Historically, though, Republicans have been reliable Election Day voters. In 2014, when Gov. Paul LePage was re-elected, Democrats held a clear edge in voting before Election Day.

Either way, those who have chosen to skip the tradition of going to the polls on Election Day were happy to have the option of voting early.

Jim Denton, 47, said he chose to vote absentee because he was going to be on the road for work next Tuesday and wasn’t sure he’d make it back in time. He also liked having a little extra time to go over the ballot, especially the six statewide referendum questions.

“Honestly, I had forgotten about some of them,” he said. “Being able to have the ballot at home and read the questions, that made a difference. There’s a lot on the ballot.”

Staff writers Rachel Ohm, Lauren Abbate, Jason Pafundi and Doug Harlow contributed reporting.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: PPHEricRussell


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