Voters descended on town halls across Maine to collect or submit absentee ballots on Monday, a day before the polls open in an unusual midsummer primary that was delayed from June to protect against the spread of COVID-19.

More than 190,000 voters have requested absentee ballots – a record for a statewide primary – and about half of those were returned as of Monday, but local election officials said they were still expecting to see plenty of voters on Tuesday, either submitting absentee ballots or voting at polling places in the traditional fashion.

York Town Clerk Mary-Anne Szeniawski said she had issued more than 3,800 absentee ballots and she expected voters would continue to return those ballots all day Monday and into Tuesday. The town had sent up a tent outside Town Hall so voters can return their ballots without entering the building and to reduce waiting times on Tuesday. Szeniawski expected at least 500 ballots to come in on Monday alone.

York Town Clerk Mary-Anne Szeniawski carries a bin of absentee ballots to place them on top of other ballots, all which were collected Monday morning. York set up a tent outside Town Hall to facilitate the collection of absentee ballots. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

She said the large number of requests for absentee ballots initially led her to believe in-person voting at York’s single polling station would be light Tuesday, but she said the high interest in the primary election was unabated Monday with some voters still picking up absentee ballots.

“I thought things might be light at the polling station,” Szeniawski said. “But today, I’m just not sure.”

Clerks and election workers in other communities also said they were seeing many voters returning ballots or, in some cases, picking up absentee ballots they planned to return Tuesday.

“They are turning them in fast and furious,” said Alice Kelley, an assistant city clerk in South Portland. Kelley said she was handing out and accepting absentee ballots Monday, while City Clerk Emily Sculley was feeding ballots into voting machines. State law allows clerks to begin processing absentee ballots up to four days before Election Day, although no tallies can be made until after the polls close Tuesday.

Gov. Janet Mills issued an executive order in March, as part of Maine’s civil state of emergency, that extended the deadline for picking up an absentee ballot all the way to the election. Typically, under state election laws, voters can only request an absentee ballot until the Thursday before the election.

Donna Harkins drops her absentee ballot in a ballot box outside South Portland City Hall on Monday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Democrats will be deciding a three-way race to select an opponent to take on incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, while Republicans in the state’s 2nd Congressional District will choose among three potential challengers to incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Golden.

The candidates in the Senate primary are Maine Speaker of the House Sara Gideon of Freeport; attorney Bre Kidman of Saco, and lobbyist and progressive activist Betsy Sweet of Hallowell.

In the 2nd District, the candidates are former state Sen. Eric Brakey of Auburn, former state Rep. Dale Crafts of Lisbon and Adrienne Bennett of Bangor, who served as press secretary for former two-term Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

If none of the three candidates in either of the congressional primaries receives more than 50 percent of the vote, Maine’s ranked-choice voting law will go into effect and a retabulation will take place after the ballots are delivered to Secretary of State Matt Dunlap in Augusta. That will likely delay the election results for several days.

During a ranked-choice retabulation, election officials eliminate the last-place finisher from contention and redistribute that candidate’s votes based on each voter’s second-choice ranking. This process of eliminating candidates from the bottom up and reallocating their votes continues until someone hits the threshold of 50 percent plus one vote. Because there are only three candidates in each of the congressional races on Tuesday, the retabulation will only have to go one round.

Party voters also will settle 34 legislative primaries, with the bulk of then among Democrats seeking election to the Maine House or Senate. Six of those races, all among Democrats, feature three candidates and also could be retabulated in a ranked-choice scenario.

Szeniawski said clerks across the state, along with their limited staffs, have been working long hours to make sure everything runs as efficiently and safely as possible, and they were expecting another long day Tuesday.

Donna Bracken hands in her absentee ballot to Marquis MacGlashing outside York Town Hall on Monday. MacGlashing usually works for the town’s Parks and Recreation Department but was helping out the clerk’s office because of the large number of absentee ballots being handed in. York set up a tent outside Town Hall to help with the collection of ballots and to keep crowds out of Town Hall. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“There’s been no such thing as a good night’s sleep in the last six weeks,” she said.

Voters who cast ballots in person should expect delays as the polling places will be limited to 50 people, including workers. Other protections, including the use of physical distancing, facial coverings for workers, and cleaning and sanitation routines for polling stations are likely to slow the process as well, clerks have said.

Marquis MacGlashing picks up envelops containing absentee ballots outside York Town Hall on Monday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Voters are encouraged to make sure they go to the correct polling place, as many have been changed to account for the need for expanded spaces for in-person voters. Most local polling locations open between 8 and 10 a.m., while polls close at 8 p.m. statewide.

Voters can find a complete list of polling locations and times for their town or city online at the Secretary of State’s Office.

 

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