A voter checks in with an election clerk July 14 as Waterville residents mark ballots in the background at The Elm at 21 College Ave. In-person voting on Election Day — Tuesday, Nov. 3 — is also set to take place at The Elm. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file photo Buy this Photo

WATERVILLE — City Clerk Patti Dubois said Tuesday she often hears the same question from voters: What is the difference between early voting and in-person absentee voting?

“It’s the same thing,” Dubois said.

With a heavy voter turnout expected at the polls Nov. 3, many Waterville residents have been asking how early voting works.

Dubois said voters may cast absentee ballots in person at City Hall starting next month, but the location will be different this year due to COVID-19 guidelines requiring people wear masks and practice social distancing.

Instead of voting in the small conference room on the main floor of City Hall, residents will vote in the Front Street conference room in the basement, according to Dubois. Voters must enter the building through the door facing Front Street that formerly was the entrance to the Police Department.

A limited number of people will be able to line up inside the door because they must be 6 feet apart. Dubois said she expected voters will have to wait outside.

Voting in person by absentee ballot runs from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, beginning Oct. 5.

Voters may vote by absentee ballot through other means.

“Absentee ballot requests can be accepted up to 90 days before the election, by mail or over the telephone,” Dubois said.

Voters may send requests for ballots by mail to City Clerk, 1 Common St., Waterville, ME 04901, or call the clerk’s dedicated line for ballot requests: 207-680-4209, Dubois said.

Voters may also print an application for an absentee ballot from a link on the city’s website — www.waterville-me.gov — and mail it in, she said. Dubois said that is the optimal way to vote early.

“They can do that anytime now,” she said. “They can send these in right now.”

In her executive order, Gov. Janet Mills has extended to Oct. 30 the deadline to request an absentee ballot. In Waterville, the deadline is 5 p.m. that day, according to Dubois.

She said Waterville will hold extended hours in October for voter registration and absentee voting at City Hall, with that extension to occur Wednesday, Oct. 14, 21 and 28, until 7 p.m.

While in-person absentee voting will be in the Front Street conference room, the room formerly used for voting on the main floor of City Hall will house additional staff to take telephone calls from people requesting ballots and processing written requests, according to Dubois.

She said her office has received many calls from people who have received notices in the mail that can be used for requesting absentee ballots. Some have asked why they got a mailing when another person in their household did not. People are confused by those mailings, which Dubois said are not distributed by the city of Waterville. They are distributed by political groups before large elections.

“They’re really just a get-out-the vote effort,” she said.

While city residents are requesting absentee ballots now, Dubois said the ballots will not be available until early October.

“We can’t mail ballots any earlier than that first week in October — we don’t have them to mail,” she said.

If voters do not receive ballots by the second week in October, they should call the clerk’s office, which will send a replacement ballot, according to Dubois.

She emphasized ballots come with instructions and it is important voters seal the envelope and sign the back of the envelope flap before mailing it back. Ballots received without signatures must be rejected, according to Dubois.

“They can’t be counted without a signature,” she said. “We have to reject that first ballot and send a replacement ballot to those people.”

When that occurs, the clerk’s office will call voters and send replacement ballots. Voters may also pick up replacement ballots at City Hall or go to the polls on Election Day to vote.

Another option is to bring completed ballots to a secure drop box near the main entrance to City Hall, according to Dubois. That box will accept ballots beginning the first week of October.

“People who haven’t returned ballots can go to the polls on Election Day to vote,” Dubois said. “Just because someone is issued a ballot doesn’t mean they voted.”

Dubois said her office tracks information on those who have requested ballots, when the ballots were sent out and how or if they have been returned to City Hall. Every ballot submitted is marked and placed in a database so election clerks at the polls know if a person has already voted.

The clerk is required by state law to conduct absentee balloting at nursing homes, but because of COVID-19, Dubois and her staff are working with staff members at each facility to ensure people are able to vote.

“Any voters in the facility have the opportunity to vote through staff members at the facility,” Dubois said.

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