Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said Friday that he has few worries that policy changes at the U.S. Postal Service will delay mail deliveries and affect November’s general election, even though a record number of absentee ballots could be cast by mail.

Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn, left, and Secretary of State Matt Dunlap speak before the tabulation of ranked-choice primary voting results July 21 in Augusta. Dunlap says July was a like trial run for pandemic voting in Maine.  Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Maine voters broke records in the July primary when they requested and cast more than 200,000 votes by absentee ballot, and Dunlap thinks that number will triple to about 600,000 in November, as voters and election officials guard against the spread of COVID-19 in Maine.

“Based on what we saw in July, we do not have acute concerns about the United States Postal Service,” said Dunlap, the state’s top election official.

The issue of mail-in ballots has been a steady topic for President Trump. He has increasingly sought to cast doubt on November’s election and the expected pandemic-induced surge in mail-in and absentee voting – particularly as he finds himself trailing in public and private polling.

The president claimed this week he had the authority to issue an executive order on mail-in voting, although he did not say what that order might entail and it remains unclear he has any authority over voting, as the U.S. Constitution gives states the right to run their own elections.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump appointee, has ordered an end to all overtime at the postal service, exacerbating delays in a system that also is being tasked with delivering an increasing number of packages as shoppers are making more online purchases to avoid exposure to COVID-19.

DeJoy has donated more than $2 million to Republican causes, including Trump’s reelection campaign – giving the Trump Victory Fund $216,000 in February, according to online records at the Federal Elections Commission. DeJoy has denied working to slow mail deliveries as a means to help Trump win reelection, but some members of Congress have begun to question DeJoy’s decisions.

Sen. Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, raised concerns Thursday that the postal service was not utilizing a $10 billion loan package that was authorized as part of the federal CARES Act to provide pandemic relief. King said he’s heard from more than 4,500 constituents, as well as postal workers in Maine, who have said the postal service is intentionally delaying the delivery of mail to save costs and to expedite the delivery of commercial goods.

King’s concerns were focused specifically on mail-in ballot delays and the implications that could have for the November election.

Maine town and city clerks, who process absentee ballots, saw only a handful of ballots come in by mail after the polls closed on the July 14 primary, and most of those were postmarked on or within a day or two of the election.

Clerks in Portland, Lewiston and Bangor – the state’s three largest cities – said they issued record numbers of absentee ballots and record numbers were returned on time. But they also saw large numbers of ballots that were not returned.

In Portland, Deputy Clerk Carolyn Dorr said 17,659 absentee ballots were issued and 2,416 were not returned. The city keeps ballots that are returned after election day, but Dorr said she did not have a count or record of when they were postmarked. Of absentee ballots issued, 1,839 were returned either by mail or in person on the day of the election, Dorr said.

City Clerk Kathy Montejo in Lewiston said she issued over 6,000 absentee ballots, and 477 have not been returned. She said 23 ballots came in after the election but only one of those – a ballot mailed from a voter in Kentucky on July 2 – appears to have been delayed or lost in the mail and arrived the day after the election.

Bangor City Clerk Lisa Goodwin said she issued over 5,000 absentee ballots and 509 of them were not returned in time to be counted. Both Goodwin and Montejo said the postal service appeared committed to getting ballots delivered on time. Goodwin said the service even delivered four ballots at 8:20 p.m. on election night, too late to be counted as polls had already closed.

Montejo said the postal service made multiple deliveries to the polling station in her city on election day.

“They were very supportive and made several deliveries during that day,” she said. “Of course, it helps that they are right down the block and it is easy to do, but they certainly did not have to do it but they did, which was great.”

Democratic voters have far outpaced Republican voters in requesting absentee ballots in Maine. For the July primary, Democrats requested 133,430 ballots while Republicans requested 38,323.

Absentee ballots will be available in early October, although voters can submit requests sooner. In July, officials were encouraging voters who planned to mail their ballots back to get them in the mail between seven and 10 days before the election to allow time for delivery.

Goodwin, the Bangor city clerk, said the biggest thing absentee voters can do to facilitate a smooth election is return their ballots as quickly as possible. She said an onslaught of absentee ballots on Election Day often delays counting at the end of the night. Portland experienced this problem in July.

Trump has called remote voting options, such as absentee voting, the “biggest risk” to his reelection. His campaign and the Republican Party have sued to combat the practice, which was once a significant advantage for Republicans.

The president has been unable to provide any evidence of widespread voter fraud through mail-in voting, and the states that use it exclusively say they have the necessary safeguards in place to ensure that it can not be compromised by outside groups. Election security experts also say voter fraud is rare in all forms of balloting, including by mail.

Still, errors can occur in balloting, as Maine witnessed last week when Dunlap’s office discovered that 11,000 ballots from several towns had been overlooked during the ranked-choice tabulation in the 2nd Congressional District Republican primary and several Democratic legislative primaries. A clerical error was blamed for the incomplete tabulation, which did not affect the outcome of any elections, and the postal service was not involved.

But the mistake demonstrated that Maine’s election system is not flawless.

Dunlap said if concerns about late mail persist, his office would attempt to address the problem well in advance of the November election, although he did not specify how. He also said he would be open to speaking with King or other elected officials about their concerns in hopes of developing a response that would ensure Maine’s ballots would be secure if they are filed by mail.

Dunlap said July was a like trial run for pandemic voting in Maine.

“But we are not going to have any more practice runs,” Dunlap said. “November is the real deal.”

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