These days, no one should want to trade places with a member of the Maine Legislature.

Sanford City Clerk Sue Cote grabs a stack of absentee ballots to begin processing, but not tallying, on Oct. 27, a week before Election Day. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

A global pandemic has created an economic crisis unlike anything anyone now serving has ever seen. While waiting to find out whether the federal government will provide direct aid to states, members of the Maine House and Maine Senate have to come to terms on a supplemental budget for the current year, and a regular budget for the next two years. There are a lot of tough choices to be made on crucial issues that affect the well-being of the state’s most vulnerable citizens and how we invest in the future.

With all of the hard decisions facing them, lawmakers should welcome any easy ones that come their way. L.D. 102, an act to extend the time frame for processing absentee ballots, should be one of the easiest.

State law allows municipal offices to request permission to process – but not count – absentee ballots up to four days before an election. Under the COVID protocols in 2020, that period was extended to seven days. This bill, sponsored by state Rep. Stephen Moriarty, D-Cumberland, would make seven days the standard in the future.

Unlike much of what the Legislature does, lawmakers don’t have to worry about surprise consequences if they pass this bill. The two COVID elections, the July primary and the November general, provided a preview of what would happen. With heavy use of absentee ballots in both elections and record turnout in the general, early processing enabled clerks to count the votes and report the results on election night in most precincts.

That should be more than enough information to quell any controversy about this bill, but because of a disinformation effort led by former President Donald Trump, there can be no mention of 2020 without controversy.

Sure enough, when L.D. 102 came up for a public hearing, two Republican lawmakers questioned whether processing – literally taking ballots out of their envelopes and feeding them into machines without tallying the result – could lead to fraud.

The legislators did not explain how that might happen, or what a crooked clerk could do on the Tuesday before an election that they couldn’t do on the Friday before, when they are allowed to start processing under current law.

In 2020, a record number of Maine voters chose to vote by absentee ballot, and it’s fair to assume that many of them will continue to vote that way even when there is no pandemic. Voters who work in one town and live in another found that they could mail in their ballot, or drop it off at their municipal office – in some cases after hours – instead of taking time out of their workday to vote. The Secretary of State’s Office created an online tracker that let voters see that their absentee ballot had been received by their municipal office and would be counted.

There are no allegations of widespread fraud in Maine that could have tipped the results in any race. The same is true across the nation. The 2020 election has been declared “the most secure in American history” by the federal government’s cybersecurity watchdog agency. Votes were counted, in some cases recounted. Then-Attorney General William Barr announced, after the FBI and Justice Department looked into alleged irregularities, that he had “not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.” Judges in more than 60 lawsuits concurred.

Unfortunately, lies about the outcome of the 2020 race make every discussion about election practices controversial.

Maine should not allow itself to be scared by monsters under the bed, dreamed up by people who can’t accept losing an election. Lawmakers should support a policy that has already proven to be effective, and take an easy win where they can get it.


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