Fears of widespread voting irregularities, vote counting problems and voter intimidation haven’t materialized on Election Day in Maine, even as overall turnout hurtled toward record numbers.

In fact, Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said even though in-person turnout was higher than anticipated, he predicted municipalities would be in good shape to report results Tuesday night.

“I know people around the country have said be patient, be prepared to wait for some period of time to get results, but we think we could see results tonight,” Dunlap said Tuesday afternoon outside the Augusta Civic Center.

The pandemic drove more voters than ever to cast absentee ballots, not just in Maine but across the country. As of Tuesday afternoon, 508,918 absentee ballots were processed in Maine, more than twice as many as four years ago and about 66 percent of the 2016 turnout. Still, Dunlap said Maine was well positioned to get through Election night relatively smoothly, in part because of a decision by Gov. Janet Mills to allow municipal clerks to begin processing absentee ballots three days earlier than usual.

Kennebunk Town Clerk Merton Brown uses his cellphone flashlight to look over a tabulation printout from an scanning machine while verifying vote counts after the polls closed at Kennebunk Town Hall on Tuesday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“That should translate into fairly accessible numbers early on in the process,” he said.

In addition to the more than half million absentee ballots that were returned, about 18,000 were still outstanding as of 3 p.m. Tuesday. Voters had until 8 p.m. to get them to their polling place or they would not be counted. It wasn’t clear Tuesday night whether Maine had any mail delays with ballots, as had been reported elsewhere.

Anna Kellar, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Maine, which had 91 election observers stationed in 16 counties, said there were few problems reported anywhere.

“With such an influx of ballots casted via absentee, it is not surprising that Maine would have a smooth election day for in person voting,” she said.

As of 11:30 p.m., 310 of 571 voting precincts (50 percent of voters) had reported results to the Associated Press. Included in those totals were heavily Democratic cities that voted overwhelmingly absentee, including Portland (83 percent of all votes), South Portland (75 percent) and Lewiston (70 percent).

In other states, including the battleground states of Michigan and Pennsylvania, counting of mail-in votes could not start until Tuesday, which means those results may not be final for several days.

Approximately 90 percent of cities and towns in Maine use electronic tabulators to count votes, which speeds up the process. In the York County town of Kennebunk, election officials first started counting the “auxiliary ballots,” those ballots the machines won’t count because voters did not fill them in correctly – either by writing in their answer or filling in the circle incorrectly. Five staff members hand-counted 21 auxiliary ballots – many more than usual, Town Clerk Merton Brown said.

Next the results for the national, state and local races were printed from all 10 machines that were fed ballots – either on Election Day or over the weekend. Then the 10 scrolls of paper were unfurled and the results read out loud and tabulated.

After results from all 10 machines were read, they were written on a master sheet. And after that’s done, Brown said, he will come down to the 99-year-old auditorium and read them out loud. That still wasn’t done by 10 p.m. – largely because of inordinate number of write-ins to all the different races – including write-in suggestions such as Jesus Christ, and Kanye West.

Election Warden Mary Lou Nedeau, who has held the post for 20 years, said it’s not uncommon for people to add write-ins, but this year with so many absentee ballots there were more people who did so, as many as 10-yards worth printed out on the tape.

All told, Kennebunk has 10,568 registered voters – including 240 who registered on Election Day – and the town received 8,347 ballots.

Mary Lou Nedeau, election warden in Kennebunk, rolls up a ballot scanner printout after the polls closed at Town Hall on Tuesday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Across the state, Dunlap said there were a few minor “glitches” with voting machines that technicians resolved easily. Those happen every year.

Although results in Maine are not expected to be delayed, ranked-choice remains a wildcard. Dunlap said his staff is prepared to employ ranked-choice voting where necessary, particularly in the hotly contested U.S. Senate race, but he didn’t put a timetable on that.

“It’s going to be as soon as we can get materials brought to Augusta,” he said. “Given the volume of ballots, I’m not going to guarantee a timeline to anybody, but we will tell people where we are at any given moment.”

For the 2018 race in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District that was settled by ranked-choice, the process took about two weeks.

A highly polarized electorate, exacerbated by anxieties related to the coronavirus pandemic, prompted fears across the country about confrontations at polling places, but there turned out to be few problems.

“We heard a lot of concerns about that … in fact we did some planning with public safety, Maine Emergency Management, the Attorney General’s Office, on how to proceed if we get a frantic call from a warden if this is happening at a polling station and they can’t control it,” Dunlap said. As of late afternoon, he hadn’t heard any reports.

“I think it speaks to the fact that we’re kind of a small-town state and people know each other,” he said. “It’s a lot less likely to happen here and the wardens do a good job controlling the polling places,”

President Trump and his allies spent the days leading up to the election casting doubt on the integrity of vote counting and threatening to file lawsuits, particularly in must-win states for him, like Pennsylvania. He has falsely claimed the mail-in voting is corrupt and has speculated, without evidence, that widespread fraud will occur.

In Maine, Dunlap said it just doesn’t happen.

“The system we have in place allows us to catch that stuff fairly quickly and people who engage in that type of behavior are really risking an awful lot because these are usually treated as felonies,” he said.

Even though absentee voting shattered previous records, many still turned out Tuesday to vote in person.

Christine Dakers, 55, of Saco, said she voted in person out of concern her vote for Biden might be invalidated otherwise.

“Ultimately, it was fear-based,” Dakers said. “I wanted to make sure my vote counts.”

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming contributed to this story


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