President Trump’s repeated attacks on mail-in voting, and his claims that it will lead to widespread voter fraud, are prompting confusion and doubt among voters in Maine and across the nation ahead of the November election.

Adding to the problem is the president’s habit of contending – without evidence – that mail-in voting is subject to fraud but absentee voting is fine, and his threat to withhold funding for the U.S. Postal Service, potentially delaying ballot delivery during the election.

Absentee and mail-in voting are being promoted by election and public health officials as a way to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by allowing voters to avoid crowded polling stations. The terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but they are not necessarily identical.

For example, five states use a mail-in voting system in which a ballot is automatically sent to every registered voter. Maine provides absentee ballots only to voters who request them. The completed ballots in Maine can be mailed in or hand-delivered.

By Tuesday afternoon, the second day a new online absentee ballot request system went live in Maine, 28,525 voters had requested ballots.

Ballots sent to Maine voters are closely tracked and accounted for with a series of checks against voter registration records – usually a voter’s registration card – and voting lists that show when a ballot was requested, when it was sent, when it was returned and ultimately when it was processed through a tabulation machine.

All these checks guard against duplicate ballots being filed by any single voter, either by mistake or on purpose, making the absentee voting process largely secure.

Here are the details of how absentee voting works in Maine:

Who can vote by absentee ballot?

Any registered Maine voter can request an absentee ballot.

Do I need a reason – for example, I’m out of town or too sick to come to the polling place?

No, you do not need to provide a specific reason for requesting an absentee ballot. You just have to ask for one.

How do I do that?

There are several ways voters can request an absentee ballot, including:

Online.  You can request your absentee ballot online by going to the Maine Secretary of State’s online request service by clicking here.

You can also request a ballot from your local municipal election official, usually your town or city clerk by calling them, visiting their office or writing them with a request for your ballot. To find your local voting official online click here.

What do I need to request a ballot?

You need to be a registered Maine voter. You will need your legal name and your address as it appears on your voter registration card, your phone number and an email address – if you request a ballot online your request will be confirmed via email. If your legal address is different than your mailing address you also will need your mailing address.

When can I request a ballot?

You can request your ballot three months before the election – for November’s general election you make your request now and up until 5 p.m. on Oct. 29.

What do I do when I get my ballot?

Fill it out completely and carefully, following the ballot instructions, and seal it in the envelope that is provided. Don’t forget to sign the outer envelope.

How do I get my ballot back to my polling place?

You can mail it back. You can return it to a pre-approved drop box at your town or city hall or you can return it in person to your clerk anytime during business hours on or before 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Election and postal officials are urging voters who plan to mail their ballots back to do so at least 15 days before Election Day. Because the ballots can be several pages long, depending on where you live, it’s a good idea to make sure the envelope has sufficient postage.

How are absentee ballots counted?

While Maine law allows absentee ballots to be requested and returned before Election Day, they are not counted until Election Day. Some provisions of law allow clerks, with permission from the Secretary of State, to begin processing ballots before Election Day, but they cannot tally any vote totals until the close of polling at 8 p.m. on Election Day.

What happens when the clerk receives my ballot before Election Day?

Ballots are returned in an envelope that has the voters’ information and signature on the outside of the envelope. That signature is matched to the signature on a voter registration card on file with the local registrar of voters. If the signature doesn’t match or the envelope is unsigned, the ballot is not counted. Once the ballot is received and accepted, a list is marked to show the voter has returned their ballot. That voter will not be issued another ballot, either absentee or in-person on Election Day.

Couldn’t I vote by mail and then go and vote in person, effectively voting twice?

No. Maine has a system for tracking ballots sent to voters and for tracking those ballots as they are returned. Local clerks create a record for each absentee ballot requested, which is incorporated into their voter lists. The record shows when a voter requested a ballot, when and if the ballot was issued, when it is returned, and finally, when the ballot was processed. So if a voter requested an absentee ballot and returned it, and they then went to their polling place in person to vote, ballot clerks would have a record showing the voter already voted. Likewise, a voter who casts a ballot in person is marked on the roll as having voted. If the voter then tried to turn in an absentee ballot on Election Day, ballot clerks would see the voter had already cast a ballot in person and would not process the absentee ballot.

What do I do if I make a mistake on, damage or lose my absentee ballot? 

You will need to contact your local clerk and, if possible, return the damaged or mistakenly marked ballot to receive a replacement. A lost ballot can be replaced if it has not been returned by the voter.

For more information on absentee voting in Maine, click here.

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