AUGUSTA — Democrats are again outpacing Republicans in requesting and filing absentee ballots for the Nov. 6 election in Maine. But election officials and experts who study early voting said that doesn’t necessarily give them an edge on Election Day.

The Secretary of State’s Office reported Monday that 19,470 Democrats have voted in Maine compared with 12,965 Republicans and 10,708 unenrolled voters. With two weeks to go until Election Day, the state was well ahead of the early voting pace in 2014, the last year when a governor’s race was at the top of the ballot.

As of Monday, about 6 percent of all registered Democrats had voted, compared with 4.6 percent of Republicans and 2.6 percent of unenrolled voters.

Democrats have traditionally outpaced Republicans in early voting in Maine, but Democrats also have a larger number of registered voters – 340,122 compared with 281,754 Republicans. Unenrolled voters comprise the largest single voting block at 358,734, making up close to 35 percent of the state’s total of 1,028,602 registered voters. The Green Independent Party and Libertarian Party recorded 42,438 and 5,554 voters, respectively.

The last time early voting surged dramatically in Maine was before the 2016 presidential election, when roughly 22 percent of all voters had cast their ballots within a week of the election.

Maine is one of 27 states that allow absentee balloting by mail. Because each state has its own rules for voter registration and ballot access, it’s difficult to compare early voting trends among states. Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said that Maine technically doesn’t have “early voting” because the ballots are not actually counted or tabulated until Election Day.

Dunlap expects the number of voters turning in absentee ballots to accelerate as Election Day nears, with the final tally being close to 2016 levels. As of Tuesday about 97,000 voters had requested absentee ballots, topping the pace in 2014.

Frank Cagnina, who recently moved to South Portland from New Jersey, reviews a statewide ballot posted at Portland City Hall. As of Tuesday, about 97,000 Maine voters had requested absentee ballots.

“The heaviest turnout is obviously during the presidential cycle,” Dunlap said. “You might actually see a somewhat heavier absentee ballot turnout during the presidential simply because people are more engaged and they might make up their minds a little sooner and turn-out-the-vote efforts might be a little bit stronger.”

He said absentee numbers are “pretty strong now” and that when there is an open seat for the governor’s office, as there is this year, absentee turnout increases.

Although Democrats have traditionally done a better job of getting people to request and submit ballots early, Dunlap said that doesn’t necessarily serve as a bellwether for election results.

He noted that Republicans still won the governor’s office in 2010 and 2014 despite being outpaced by Democrats in absentee voting. In 2016, Democrats again bested Republicans in absentee balloting, but that didn’t prevent Maine’s 2nd Congressional District voters from favoring Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and re-electing Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin.

“It hasn’t seemed to hurt Republicans much,” Dunlap said. “It would matter if those people who otherwise turn out to vote at the polls stay home – then those numbers are significant, but if people go to the polls rather than vote absentee, how they deliver their ballots is immaterial.”

Democrats are outpacing Republicans in absentee balloting in both of Maine’s congressional districts, and Dunlap said he expects overall voter turnout to be 60 percent to 65 percent.

Paul Gronke, a political science professor at Reed College in Oregon and the director of the Early Voting Information Center, agreed that early voting trends are not a predictor of electoral victory.

Hannah Matthews, right, and Peter Macomber cast absentee ballots Tuesday at Portland City Hall. With two weeks to go until Election Day, the state is well ahead of the early voting pace set in 2014, when the last governor’s race was held.

Gronke said early voter turnout rates are up nationally, but some of that can be attributed to factors beyond pure voter interest. He noted that some states, such as Minnesota and Wisconsin, have made absentee voting easier, and in other states, such as Georgia, there have been intense get-out-the-vote efforts by both parties.

“I’m more skeptical than some of my colleagues that we can conclude that much from early voting totals,” Gronke said in an email to the Portland Press Herald. “The reason is sort of central to political science – we study these darn human beings that don’t respond the same way to changes in the rules of the game. If only we studied bowling balls.”

Still, Gronke said campaigns like to focus on getting early votes in hand, because it allows them to better focus their Election Day get-out-the-vote efforts on those who have not yet cast ballots.

In Maine, voters can request an absentee ballot until the Thursday before the election, which is Nov. 1 this year. All ballots need to be returned to voting places before 8 p.m. on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 6.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

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