Mainers just can’t wait to vote this year, and thanks to absentee voting they don’t have to.

By this past Thursday, 12 days before the election, the Maine Secretary of State’s Office had already accepted more than 124,600 absentee ballots, or about 13 percent of all registered voters. In the last presidential election year, 2012, the office had gotten more than 90,600 absentee ballots with 12 days to go.

According to data on the secretary of state’s website, more than 55,800 of the absentee ballots collected by last week were from registered Democrats and more than 32,400 were from registered Republicans. That’s about 17 percent of all registered Democrats and 12 percent of registered Republicans. In 2012, 12.9 percent of registered Democrats had voted absentee 12 days before the election and 8.8 percent of Republicans had voted absentee.

Voter enthusiasm, efforts by the national political parties, and tireless work by town and city clerks are among the reasons for the increase in early voting, local political leaders and observers say. But whether the early voting totals will have a major impact on the election is unclear. In fact, if past elections are any indication, an increase in absentee voting doesn’t translate into an overall increase in voter turnout.

“The people who vote early are the most likely to vote anyway, activists who might be working the polls Election Day, and people who want to get their votes locked in,” said Andrew E. Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, which has conducted polls for media outlets, including the Portland Press Herald. “I think the Democrats have been very good at this, feeling there’s an advantage for them if they (are) making voting easier for young people. But across the country it hasn’t had much of an impact on overall turnout.”

Absentee voting, in Maine, is essentially early voting. State officials don’t use the term “early voting” because in some places that means votes that are cast early and tabulated early. In Maine, people don’t even technically have to be absent from the state, they can actually vote on an absentee ballot in-person at their town or city hall.



Republican and Democratic leaders have differing views on why there are more people voting early in Maine by absentee ballot. And the reasons given by both are connected to how they view their party’s presidential candidates, Donald Trump for Republicans and Hillary Clinton for Democrats.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm this year. Democrats understand the threat Trump poses, so they want to send a message” by voting early, said Phil Bartlett, chairman of the Maine Democratic Party.

“We’ve seen a lot of money pouring in on the Democratic side to get people to vote early, before there’s more disclosure of all the things (Clinton’s) involved in,” said Jason Savage, executive director of the Maine Republican Party.

Savage said that Maine Republicans are more likely to want to vote on Election Day, to be part of “the event.” He said in many areas of Maine where Republican candidates do well, including the more rural 2nd Congressional District, Republican voters see going to the polls as an important social event, and a way to be more engaged with their community.

“I don’t think you see that in some of the bigger communities,” Savage said.


Another reason why it’s hard to guess the impact of absentee voting on Maine elections is that registered Democrats and Republicans combined make up about 59 percent of the state’s voters. According to numbers released by the Secretary of State’s Office on Oct. 20, 32.6 percent of registered voters are Democrats, 26.8 percent are Republicans, 4 percent are Green Independent, and 0.5 percent are Libertarian. The rest – about 36 percent – are unenrolled.

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said the number of people voting absentee before elections has been growing steadily ever since the Legislature removed all obstacles to absentee voting in the late 1990s. Before that, he said, one needed to have a scheduled medical procedure, or be out of town, or some similar reason, to qualify for an absentee ballot. So every year people have become more familiar, and more comfortable, with the idea of voting absentee for no particular reason.

But as the number of absentee ballots accepted grows, the state will have to address the issue, since absentee ballots are a lot of work for clerks.

The Secretary of State’s Office has broken down the absentee ballots by community. As of Oct. 27, Portland, the state’s largest city, had the most accepted ballots, with 7,095. But Brunswick, with about 21,000 residents, was second. As of Friday afternoon Brunswick Town Clerk Fran Smith said she had gotten back 4,139 absentee ballots. She didn’t think there was any one reason for the large number, but said her office works hard to promote absentee voting and make it easy for people. That includes hanging posters around town, extending town hall hours in the weeks before an election, and opening up on a couple Saturday mornings.


The steady trickle of voters who showed up Saturday at the Brunswick Town Hall to register and cast their ballots cited convenience and busy schedules as reasons why they were not waiting until Nov. 8 to vote.


Joan Carter said she voted early because her job can get hectic and she wanted to make sure she didn’t miss her chance to vote. Her husband, Alan Carter, also cast his ballot. “Although I kind of like going to the polls for the excitement and participation,” he said, referring to Election Day.

Nancy Lemieux, who will be working at the Brunwick polls on Nov. 8, voted on Friday. On Saturday she came back with her husband, Dennis Lemieux, who said he decided to bypass the Election Day rush.

“I am so glad I came. There was no line, no petitioners,” said Dennis Lemieux.

Old Orchard Beach Town Clerk Kim McLaughlin has been encouraging voters who have made up their minds to cast their ballots early. Some people like to come into Town Hall and be done with it quickly, while others prefer to take their absentee ballots home and take their time filling them out, she said.

“Nobody wants to stand in a long line when you can come to Town Hall and be done in 10 minutes,” she said.

As of noon Friday, 1,530 of the 1,959 absentee ballots requested by Old Orchard Beach voters had been returned to the clerk’s office. That’s about 500 fewer absentee ballots than cast during the 2008 presidential election, but McLaughlin said it’s possible the town may surpass that record in the coming week. There are 7,356 registered voters in Old Orchard Beach.


In Sanford, 1,477 of the 2,121 absentee ballots requested so far have been returned. In 2012, residents cast 1,867 absentee ballots. City Clerk Sue Cote credits some of that increase to the clerk’s office holding absentee voting hours on two Saturdays. Her office also will stay open until 7 p.m. Thursday.

Cote said her office also has been busy with new voter registrations. As of noon Friday, there were 13,792 registered voters in the city and the clerk’s office was processing a stack of new voter registration cards.


Buxton Town Clerk John Myers said both absentee voting and new voter registration have been steady. As of Thursday night, 1,178 of the town’s roughly 5,900 voters had requested absentee ballots. The town’s record for absentee ballots is 1,900 in 2008.

“I’m not sure if we’ll make it or not,” Myers said, adding that Town Hall was open for absentee voting on two Saturdays.

Municipal clerks in Scarborough, South Portland and Cape Elizabeth reported high early voter turnout last week.


In Scarborough, which has 15,878 registered voters, turnout was averaging 300 voters per day, with a high of 481 votes cast on Wednesday, said Town Clerk Tody Justice.

With a total of 3,823 absentee ballots in hand by Thursday, Scarborough was on track to surpass 4,495 absentee ballots in 2012 and possibly exceed 5,477 absentee ballots in 2008, the last two presidential election years.

“Some say they’ve had enough of the campaigns,” Justice said. “Others say they don’t want to walk the gauntlet of candidates at the polls on Election Day.”

Voters may cast absentee ballots in person at their city or town hall through Thursday without special circumstances, such an unexpected absence from the municipality on Election Day, physical disability or illness.

Staff Writers Gillian Graham and Beth Quimby contributed to this report.

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