More than 5.5 percent of Maine’s nearly 964,000 registered voters have already voted in the 2014 elections, slightly ahead of the pace of the 2010 gubernatorial race, according to data from the Maine Secretary of State.

The numbers also show that registered Democrats have cast 1,803 more ballots than registered Republicans, but Republicans are doing better if the ballots are counted as a percentage of party registration. The numbers represent an imprecise measure of party enthusiasm, a factor that could help decide the gubernatorial contest in an election that will likely hinge on voter turnout.

Both the Maine Democratic Party and the Maine Republican Party are devoting attention to absentee balloting drives, an effort to lock in early votes for their candidates. So far, the party operations are running marginally ahead of the pace set in the 2010 race for governor, when nearly one in four Mainers who voted did so by absentee ballot before Election Day.

Early voting – or in Maine no excuse absentee voting – has become a major focus for national and local political campaigns that try to identify new supporters and ensure that old ones actually vote.

Andy Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, said absentee and early voting strategies vary by state and party. Democrats, for example, may use absentee balloting to identify new voters or make it easier to vote for those who don’t normally participate in midterm elections.

“If you can find new people and are reasonably confident that they’ll vote for you, then it makes sense to target them with absentee or early voting,” Smith said Monday.


So far, 53,026 absentee ballots have been returned and accepted by the Secretary of State’s Bureau of Corporations, Elections & Commissions, which has been filing reports twice a week since mid-September. More than 90,000 absentee ballots have been requested. The deadline to request an absentee ballot is Thursday, although the ballots can be returned up until Election Day.

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said he expected the pace of absentee voting will increase from now until Election Day.

“It seems like people are starting to feel reasonably confident enough to cast their votes,” he said.

In 2010, 52,530 absentee ballots had been returned by 11 days before the election. Julie Flynn, deputy Secretary of State, cautioned against drawing direct comparisons between 2010 and this year. Flynn said a number of issues could affect the absentee ballot report, including the different timing of the political parties’ respective ballot drives and how quickly town clerks provide and submit absentee ballots.

Nonetheless, the numbers provide some evidence that absentee voting pace is marginally ahead of where it was four years ago, although there are 31,301 fewer registered voters this year than in 2010.

At this point in 2010, 5.3 percent of registered voters had returned ballots. So far this year, 7.2 percent of registered Republicans, 6.7 percent of registered Democrats and 3.4 percent of unenrolled and registered Green Independents have done so.


There are fewer Republicans and Democrats but more unenrolled voters and Greens registered now than in 2010.

However, the numbers could change because both parties will likely continue to enroll new voters through Election Day.

Historical data shows that the majority of absentee ballots are returned in the final week before Election Day as undecided voters make up their minds and politically active voters wait for the latest polls. Nearly 30 percent of absentee ballots cast were returned three days before the 2010 election.

The early absentee data suggests that will be the case this year, too. Flynn said there could be a number of reasons why voters wait, including a competitive gubernatorial race. A number of polls have shown a tight contest between Republican Gov. Paul LePage, Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler, although a recent Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram poll showed LePage opening a lead.

Dunlap, the Secretary of State, said some had speculated that early absentee voting would be slower this year than in 2010 because anti-LePage voters wouldn’t want to miss any last-minute changes in the three-way race.

“That doesn’t seem to be happening right now,” he said.


Both parties have begun ramping up their turnout operations. Democrats, who have traditionally outperformed Republicans in the so-called ground game, are putting a significant emphasis on their operation this year, using specialized data to target voters for canvassing and absentee ballot drives.

Maine records individual absentee votes by town, party affiliation and the day and time ballots are received. It also assigns an identification number to each absentee voter, which is confidential, at least to the public. However, political organizations can pay the state to access the Central Voter Registration database, which includes every voter’s name, party enrollment status, participation history and other detailed information. Political organizations can use the voter identification number on the absentee ballot report to match information it purchased from the central database.

In other words, political organizations know if people have voted absentee or whether or not they need to be contacted and encouraged to vote.

Maine is one of 33 states that have some form of voting that allows individuals to cast a ballot in person before Election Day without having to offer an explanation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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