Gardiner Deputy Clerk Alisha Ballard processes requests for absentee ballots Tuesday at City Hall. On the first day requests for absentee ballots the City of Gardiner processed 88 online requests and are waiting for another 22 requests to be verified. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Just one day after the Maine Secretary of State website opened up for absentee ballot requests, more than 20,000 people had already submitted their information.

That also held true in central Maine, as town and city clerks were also seeing an influx of requests. Despite the expected large absentee ballot turnout, however, local officials expect election results to be ready at a normal time for the Nov. 3 general election.

Kelly Gooldrup, Augusta’s new city clerk, said the city had 2,000 absentee ballots in July and was expecting more in November. As of 2 p.m. Tuesday, the city had received 605 absentee ballot requests.

It definitely bogs things down when you’re trying to process those and still do all the other duties,” she said. “We have five out front right now waiting on customers and processing the ballots.”

Gooldrup said each application takes between five and 10 minutes to process, even before the city receives its ballots. She said most of the election work will happen before in-person voting.

I think on election night, it will probably be pretty basic (and) standard,” Gooldrup said. “(Absentee ballots) will be processed early so it won’t hold up getting the results that night.”

Gooldrup was formerly the city clerk in Gardiner, where city office staff are divvying up the job. Gardiner Deputy Clerk Alisha Ballard said she was handling the processing of absentee ballots Tuesday, where she was up to 150 total.

Ballard said the noticeable effect of Gooldrup’s departure is simply the number of people helping customers and doing election work in the office.

“We’re just down one person,” she said. “It’s stuff that we’ve been doing but it’s just an added duty on top of everything else during tax season.”

On Monday, the state’s online absentee ballot application system was up and running. Using the tool, Maine voters living in the United States can apply for an absentee ballot online by filling out an electronic request form. Those applications are forwarded to municipal offices, where they are processed and mailed back to the applicant in early October. Voters can also return the ballot to their municipality’s office.

In July, Maine voters broke records by casting more than 200,000 votes by absentee ballot. Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap estimated that number will balloon to 600,000 in November. Despite an overhaul to the United States Postal Service, he said ballot delivery was not an “acute” concern of his ahead of the election.

On Tuesday, Dunlap tweeted that Mainers requested more than 20,000 absentee ballots in the first day.

Kristen Muszynski, Dunlap’s spokeswoman, said applicants should receive absentee ballots by Oct. 3, or 30 days before the election and urged absentee voters to mail their ballots no later than seven days before the Nov. 3 election because of possible delays experienced by the U.S. Postal Service.

That sentiment was echoed by Steve Doherty, Northeast area strategic communications specialist for the U.S. Postal Service.

“It’s recommended that voters mail their ballots one week prior to election day,” he said. “We do expect higher than normal ballots by mail, but we’re equipped to handle them.”

The City Clerk’s office in City Hall on Wednesday in Waterville. The office recently bought a box for absentee ballots so residents can drop off their ballots without mailing them. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

Waterville City Clerk Patti Dubois said the easiest way to sign up for an absentee ballot is to go to the town’s website, print out an application form and mail it to the town office. She said the state’s application service requires extra steps for the office, like signing into a separate database from municipal records to confirm the application.

“I would just urge people to request it early,” Dubois said.

She doesn’t expect any delays in results, as clerks will begin counting absentee ballots the weekend before the election. Dubois said if people are confused about the process of absentee voting, they should call their municipal office.

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” she said. “Just come straight to the horse’s mouth and get the answers.”

In Skowhegan, Town Clerk Gail Pelotte said 905 of the town’s 1,523 voters in July voted absentee. She said officials took 20 to 25 requests over the phone yesterday and plan to count absentee ballots as early as Oct. 30.

Pelotte said late absentee ballot requests put a strain on municipal officials.

They did away with having a deadline to request and come in,” she said. “We had people coming in and voting the day before the election. It’s a good thing for them, but … it is taxing for town clerks.”

Pelotte said the town recently bought a box for ballots so residents can drop off their ballots without mailing them.

It’s going to be a great asset for this election for us because they’re not going to have to mail in,” she said.

Joan Hayward, the registrar of voters in Washington, said Tuesday that the town had 200 absentee voters in July, which is five times as many compared to pre-pandemic elections. She said the town has fielded 20 requests for absentee ballots already, a number she expects to grow to 400 or 450.

Hayward said the town will likely take two days before the election to process absentee ballots, and she expected no delays with results.

“We have a good system here,” she said. “I think the way Maine will handle the election will be perfectly fine.”

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