Maine’s first pandemic election is just one week away, and local election officials are scrambling to make voting as safe as possible.

On the ballot will be a Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, a Republican primary for Congress in the 2nd District, a $15 million broadband initiative and a $100 million transportation bond, as well as school budgets and other local matters.

This is the rescheduled state election that was pushed to July 14 from June 9, when many city and town offices were still closed, and the midsummer date is not the only change voters will notice. Plexiglass shields, hand sanitizing stations and a supply of clean pens will be used to protect voters and poll workers from the transmission of the virus. Some towns and cities have consolidated polling places, and plans are being finalized to make sure that people will have enough room to line up safely on Election Day.

Voters still have time to make the polls safer and easier to manage – and that’s by skipping the line and voting by absentee ballot.

Maine voters have already broken all records for requesting absentee ballots in a primary election. By late last week, 163,000 Mainers had requested ballots, and it’s not too late to join them. Because of the pandemic, voters can request a ballot right up until Election Day this year, although the options for returning one get narrower the longer they wait.

To be counted, absentee ballots need to be received by your town clerk by the closing of the polls on Election Day. If you are requesting a ballot to vote by mail, the Secretary of State’s Office recommends giving two to five days for the ballot your town office sends to reach you, and another two to five days for your completed ballot to make it back. With only six days until the deadline, there’s good chance it might not make it.

But voters can still request their absentee ballot in person at their municipal office, and fill it out in the presence of the clerk, right up to and including Election Day. Some towns and cities have set up drop boxes where a voter can leave their completed ballot, to be counted later.

Every voter who can should consider voting absentee in this election, and not just to make the July 14 election as safe as possible.

This is a trial run for a much more complicated election that’s less than four months away. There is no reason to believe that the COVID-19 pandemic will be over by then, and infection rates may be much worse. In a presidential election year, we are almost certainly going to have a much heavier volume of absentee ballots than state election officials have ever had to deal with before; if there are any logistical issues around getting ballots out to voters and processing them, the sooner we know about them, the better.

Election Day is going to be different this year. Voters should be ready to change the way they make their voice heard.


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