About 30 volunteers and city officials gather Saturday at Waterville City Hall to begin processing the roughly 5,800 absentee and early voting ballots turned in by Friday night. According to the city clerk, about 500 requested ballots have yet to be returned. Taylor Abbott/Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE — Thousands of ballots were processed at City Hall on Saturday in preparation for Tuesday’s election.

Patti Dubois, Waterville’s city clerk, said that this year her office received around 5,800 ballots by the end of the day on Friday. Citywide, there are a little over 13,000 registered voters split between seven wards.

Numbers of absentee ballots this year have increased tremendously over the previous election, Dubois said, with the record high being around 3,400. As of Saturday morning, she said, about 500 requested absentee ballots had not yet been returned.

“Several years ago they allowed us to process the ballots early, so we generally do,” Dubois said. “We usually do it the Saturday before the election, but it’s not usually as big of an operation.”

Dubois said that in years past, there have typically been around eight people that help process ballots; this year, there were around 30. Each was equipped with a mask and hand sanitizer and completed a COVID-19 screening prior to working and were trained beforehand on how to process each ballot.

“They had a training last week where we gave them information about absentee ballots in general and what the flow of the day is like so they know what to expect when they show up,” Dubois said.

Because planning needs to be done weeks in advance, Dubois said that the entire weekend was reserved as they were not sure how many ballots would come in.

“We planned and advertised for this to take both days,” Dubois said.

Members of the public were allowed to observe the process, though due to COVID-19 restrictions, four were allowed in to watch from the Opera House entrance at a time.

Observing Saturday morning was Teresa Cloutier, a poll watcher for the Maine Democratic Party.

“Our purpose is to make sure that all ballots are being counted and that none of them are being turned down without valid reasons,” Cloutier said.

Reasons to reject a ballot could range from the extreme — a voter being now deceased — to the more common, a missing or invalid signature on the envelope, or stray marks on the ballot. Whenever possible, the Secretary of State’s office encourages clerks to reach out to the voter and remedy the issue if possible.

After looking at the stack of ballots that were rejected, Cloutier said that the clerk’s office was within statute and the reasoning valid.

“What she showed me is valid and within statute,” Cloutier said.

Those who wish to vote in-person on Election Day are to go to Waterville Junior High School at 100 West River Road from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.; an absentee ballot drop-box is located outside of City Hall.

Information on what’s on the local ballot can be found on the city’s website.

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