Chris Higgins of Portland deposits his absentee ballot into a drop box on the Myrtle Street side of City Hall on Friday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

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

With the state’s encouragement during the pandemic, Maine voters are filing record numbers of absentee ballots to reduce the risk of contracting the coronavirus.

To help the process go smoothly, dozens of cities and towns across the state have installed secure absentee ballot drop boxes where voters can deposit their completed ballots until the polls close on Election Day.

Here’s what you need to know about drop boxes and their use:

How do I know if my city or town has a drop box available?

State officials do not have a complete list of municipalities that have installed drop boxes. They encourage voters to contact local election officials to find out, but most of Maine’s largest cities and towns, including Portland, Bangor and Lewiston, have installed secure drop boxes.

Where are drop boxes usually located?

Boxes must be installed on town or city property, and most are located just outside the town or city hall.

Can political parties or someone else put out a drop box?

No. Only authorized city and town election officials are authorized to place a ballot drop box. No one else, including political parties, may do so.

When can I drop my ballot off at a drop box?

Most drop boxes are available seven days a week, 24-hours a day.

Do I have to do anything special to return my ballot this way?

No. But you do need to place your absentee ballot in the return envelope it came in – and make sure you sign the back of the envelope or your ballot will be rejected.

Do I need to put postage on the envelope if I drop it in a drop box?

No. You do not need to put stamps on the envelope.

Can I put my ballot sealed in the envelope in any municipal drop box?

No. You must place the envelope in the drop box of the municipality where you are registered to vote. Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said some voters have deposited absentee ballots in drop boxes in other municipalities.

Election officials are encouraged to have law enforcement deliver inappropriately dropped ballots to the correct municipalities, but they are not required to do so and as Election Day grows closer they may not have time.

“It’s really important you put your ballot in the drop box for your town only,” Dunlap said. He also urged voters to ensure they seal their ballot in the return envelope that came with it and sign the back. Otherwise, the ballot will not be counted because election officials won’t know whose it is.

Can I drop off all my neighbors’ ballots when I drop mine off?

Generally, no. State law allows you to drop off only your own ballot or that of an immediate family member.

An absentee voter can designate another person to drop off their ballot, but they must name their designee on the application when they apply for their own ballot.

How long have drop boxes been a thing in Maine?

Many cities and towns purchased drop boxes months ago, when Gov. Janet Mills authorized their use as part of the state’s response to the pandemic. Some were in place for the statewide party primaries in July. Others, like Portland’s, just went in last week.

Are all municipalities in Maine required to offer ballot drop boxes?

No. But those that do are required to adhere to the state’s strict guidelines on ballot box design, construction and use.

Where are all these boxes coming from?

Demand for the boxes has been so high nationally that some manufacturers have weeks-long back orders. That prompted the Mills administration to authorize a special procurement process for Maine-built drop boxes.

Maine Source Machining, a company in West Newfield that also makes barbecue smokers, was awarded the contract to make drop boxes for Maine towns and cities. The company makes two sizes, a large box priced at $807.95 and a smaller model for $598.95. As of last week, the company had taken orders for 43 small and 11 large drop boxes, state officials said.

Federal CAREs Act funding is going toward reimbursing cities and towns for much of the cost, and some municipalities have also turned to other available grant funding.

Diane Lizotte of Lewiston drops her ballot into the early ballot drop box in front of City Hall in Lewiston on Monday afternoon. “My husband and I have been voting early for a few years now. We just want to make sure we get our vote in and counted,” she said. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Is anybody actually using these drop boxes to vote?

Yes. Many voters concerned about postal service delays are dropping off their absentee ballots in person. Recent data released by Dunlap’s office shows that up to 60 percent of ballots already received have either been personally delivered or dropped at a drop box.

How often are the boxes emptied and who does that?

Only city or town clerks, assistant clerks or their deputies have access to the drop boxes. Ballots are collected twice daily every business day the clerk’s office is open, until 8 p.m. on Election Day.

What if somebody drops their ballot in the box after 8 p.m. on Election Day?

That shouldn’t happen. The law requires the boxes be made inaccessible after 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Who is keeping an eye on these boxes when the office is closed?

Most cities and towns have placed drop boxes in well-lit locations, and some are either monitored by closed-circuit cameras or placed in areas staffed 24 hours a day by municipal employees, such as police officers.

What if someone were to vandalize, tamper with or destroy a drop box or the ballots inside it?

That would likely result in felony-level charges under both state and federal law that protect voters, voting processes and elections.

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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