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

If you got an absentee ballot for the Nov. 3 election and plan to return it by mail, do so no later than today.

Officials warn that, if you wait, there’s a chance your ballot won’t make it on time.

In a letter to Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap in August, U.S. Postal Service officials warned that mail delays and Maine’s election laws, which prohibit any ballots from being counted if they arrive after 8 p.m. on Election Day, could leave some voters disenfranchised in November.

So election officials have been urging voters to mail their ballots back early. The warning has also prompted dozens of cities and towns to install drop boxes so voters can easily return ballots themselves.

Here’s what you need to know about getting your ballot in on time:

If I put my ballot in the mail today, will it be delivered on time?

You could be cutting it close. For weeks, state and local election officials have urged voters not to delay. The Postal Service advised in its August letter that ballots with first class postage should be mailed at least seven days before the election – and that’s today.

“Voters are encouraged not to wait and to do this sooner rather than later,” Lewiston City Clerk Kathy Montejo warned in an email Monday. Kristen Muszynski, a spokeswoman for Dunlap, made the same recommendation in a social media post Monday.

Why can’t they count my ballot if it is postmarked by Election Day?

Maine law does not allow any ballot received after the polls close at 8 p.m. on Election Day to be counted. While some states have laws allowing ballots to be counted up to 10 days after the election if postmarked by Election Day, Maine does not.

A legal challenge to Maine’s law that sought to extend the cutoff by 10 days because of the unprecedented use of absentee ballots and concerns about mail delays was rejected by a Kennebec County Superior Court justice in September. That decision was upheld by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court earlier this month.

What happens if I forgot to get stamps or don’t have any?

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “… the U.S. Postal Service has a policy of prioritizing election mail, especially ballots, and will deliver a ballot envelope even when it does not have sufficient postage. Typically, though, the post office will bill the local election office for the price of postage. If the majority of voters don’t affix postage, this could be a significant expense for a local election office.”

What should I do if I’m reading this less than a week before the election and my absentee ballot is still sitting on my kitchen table?

You still have options for returning it. You can hand-deliver it to your town or city clerk during regular business hours, or you can drop it in a secure ballot drop box if your city or town offers that option.

You can call your town or city clerk, or visit your municipal website, to find out about hours and where your ballot drop box is located. Make sure to drop your ballot in your community’s drop box. Also, remember to sign the back of the return envelope for your absentee ballot. Unsigned envelopes are the biggest reason absentee ballots are rejected.

What if I haven’t requested an absentee ballot yet, is it too late?

No. You can request an absentee ballot using the state’s online ballot request service until 5 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 29. To make an absentee ballot request online go to: maine.gov/sos. Click on the link in the middle of the page that reads, “Request or track your absentee ballot.”

You may also request an absentee ballot or vote in person using an absentee ballot by visiting your town or city clerk’s office before 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 30. Voters can not request absentee ballots Monday, Nov. 2, or Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, unless they have an unforeseen medical issue or other unexpected situation, under state law.

I’ve already mailed my absentee ballot, how do I know if it got there?

You can track your absentee ballot online by going to maine.gov/sos and clicking on the tab in the center of the page that reads, “Request or track your absentee ballot.”

What if I’ve decided I want to vote in person on Election Day but have already received an absentee ballot?

Election officials are urging voters to use their absentee ballots if they have requested them. This will require you to fill out the ballot, seal it in the return envelope, sign the back of the envelope and return it to your election official before 8 p.m. on Election Day. You may also check the status of your request using the online tracking system. Municipal clerks will not be allowed to issue you a second ballot unless you spoiled your ballot with a marking error or other mistake or the ballot you requested does not arrive.

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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