One in a frequent series of stories examining Maine’s voting system.

By the end of the week, it is likely that more than 150,000 Maine voters already will have completed their civic duty by casting an absentee ballot for the Nov. 3 election.

The absentee turnout is expected to shatter all records, as public officials repeatedly urge voters to take advantage of Maine’s no-excuse-needed system to minimize the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in their local polling places.

Many cities and towns are offering extended hours, drop boxes and other conveniences to make it even easier for voters to obtain and cast absentee ballots before Election Day.

Here’s what you need to know to get in on the action:

I want to vote early. What do I need to do?

The first step to voting in Maine is making sure you are registered to vote in the town where you live. Any U.S. citizen who is 18 or will be 18 by Election Day can register and vote in Maine. If you don’t know if you are registered to vote, check with your municipal election official, usually your town or city clerk.  You can find an alphabetical list of municipal voting officials and how to contact them on the Maine Secretary of State’s website. Or click here. To register you will need to provide proof of your identity and residence either with a government-issued photo identification or a combination of non-photo identity documents, like a Social Security card or a certified birth certificate.

Now that I’m registered to vote, how do I get an absentee ballot?

You can request an absentee ballot one of several ways, including using the state’s online request form.  You can also download a request application and mail it to your town clerk. You can call your clerk and request a ballot or you can visit your clerk’s office and request a ballot in-person. You can also request an absentee ballot for an immediate family member who is also a registered voter.

How long do I have to do that?

This year the deadline to request an absentee ballot by telephone or by the online request service is 5 p.m. Oct. 29. You can vote by absentee ballot during business hours at your town clerk’s office, until 5 p.m. Oct. 30.

What are the hours and dates for early voting?

Typically the hours for early in-person absentee voting are during your town clerk’s regular business hours. This can vary from town to town. Some places, like Portland, have expanded or extended their hours for dropping off absentee ballots or for in-person absentee voting. You should check with your local election officials to be sure.

What can I expect at the town office?

If you are going to drop off an absentee ballot that you received in the mail and completed at home, you will simply be handing your ballot, sealed in the return envelope that came with it, to your local election officials. You may also be depositing your ballot in an official drop box, if your town or city has installed one, either inside or outside the municipal building. Remember to complete the back portion of the envelope and make sure you sign it. The most common mistake that leads to an absentee ballot being rejected is that voters forget to sign the back of the return envelope.

Also, do not use a ballot drop box outside the town where you live. Towns can only accept absentee ballots from voters who live and are registered there.

Do I have to request an absentee ballot before I go to the town office?

No. But it may be more efficient if you do.

You can request and cast your absentee ballot in person until 5 p.m. Oct. 30. If you miss that deadline you will need to vote in person at your regular polling location.

The polling place for in-person absentee voting is usually the town or city clerk’s office or nearby. Keep in mind it may not be the same place as your regular in-person polling station.

Some cities have extended hours to drop off completed absentee ballots. They may or may not be offering in-person absentee ballot requests and voting at the same time. You need to check with your local election officials to find out if you can request an in-person absentee ballot during these extended voting early voting periods.

Do I need to give a reason for voting absentee?

No. Maine has a no-excuse absentee ballot law. You need only need to be a valid registered voter to request an absentee ballot.

I requested and received an absentee ballot in the mail. Do I have to return it by mail?

No. You can return it several ways, including bringing it to your local clerk or by depositing it in a local ballot drop box.

What if I want to mail it back?

You can do that, but ensure you allow enough time for the ballot to get back to your clerk before 8 p.m. on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3. Officials are recommending voters who are planning to mail their ballots back allow at least 10 days, which means your ballot should be in the mail no later than Oct. 23.

What will I need to bring if I want to request an absentee ballot at the town office?

If you are already a registered voter you only need to show up and request your ballot. If you are not already registered you will be required to show the identity and residency documents listed above.

If I vote early, does that mean my ballot will be counted early?

No. This year, because of the pandemic and the large number of absentee ballots being filed, clerks who have requested permission from the Secretary of State’s Office will be allowed to begin processing absentee ballots up to seven days before Election Day. But that doesn’t mean the ballots are being counted.

Clerks will be allowed to remove ballots from their sealed envelopes and begin the process of putting them into vote counting machines. But the counts on those machines will remain sealed until they are added to the tallies from in-person voting on Election Day. That all happens after polls close at 8 p.m. on Nov. 3.

Coming next: Ranked-choice voting

Do you have a question about Maine’s election system or how your vote will be counted? Send it to [email protected]

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