Gov. Janet Mills said Tuesday that Maine will likely reschedule its June 9 primary to July 14 over concerns that in-person voting could further the spread of the coronavirus.

Mills said she was working with Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, local election officials and the state’s political parties on a plan to postpone the primary.

“Everybody, to a person, remains very concerned about in-person voting on June 9,” Mills said during a briefing on the state’s response to the pandemic.

She said the state would try to reduce person-to-person contact by promoting absentee voting and perhaps using federal funds to put up protective barriers, such as the screens used in many retail stores, to protect voters and election officials in some polling places.

“We are guessing to some extent,” said Mills, a Democrat, of the July 14 date. “It seemed to me we would give people enough time to plan ahead. We want to preserve every Maine voter’s right to express themselves at the ballot box to cast their vote and preserve our democracy.”

Seth Nelson, a spokesman for the Maine Democratic Party, said the party endorses Mills’ decision to reschedule the primary.


“We support her statements that maximizing accessibility of mail balloting and retaining, but reducing, the need for in-person voting are crucial steps to take, and we look forward to clarity on how those goals will be achieved,” Nelson said.

Jason Savage, executive director of the Maine Republican Party, said the party was seeking additional details.

“We don’t know enough yet and have not been provided any of the relevant information,” Savage said in a written statement.

Mills’ announcement came on the same day that thousands in Wisconsin stood in line for hours to cast primary ballots. Wisconsin’s Democratic governor had attempted to suspend in-person voting but was overruled Monday by the state’s Supreme Court in a lawsuit brought by Republicans.

Many polling places were closed, while others were staffed by the state’s National Guard, and many voters were torn over whether to comply with a stay-at-home order or go to the polls. Others said they never received their absentee ballots and were resigned to the fact that their votes would not be counted.

“We have moved forward with an election, but we have not moved forward with democracy in the state of Wisconsin,” Neil Albrecht, executive director of the Milwaukee election commission, told the Associated Press.


Dunlap said June 9th may seem distant but the trajectory of the pandemic is still unknown. “And based on what we are seeing in other countries and other parts of the U.S., we are not even in the middle of it yet,” he said.

He said several deadlines pegged to the election date would also be pushed back, and that election officials had many concerns about June, including the risk to poll workers.

Dunlap said his office is prepared for the possibility that the primary might be absentee-ballot only if municipalities can’t staff polling places. He said his office might also be short-staffed because of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

“Our principal goal here is to make sure there is no doubt about the integrity or outcomes of our elections,” Dunlap said.

Maine voters can already request an absentee ballot for the primary. Voters will have until two days before the new primary date to request and cast an absentee ballot, and they will be able to change their party registration until 15 days before the election.

Several key races, including selection of party nominees for Congress, will be on the primary ballot. As many as 46 primary races for the Legislature will also be decided.

Democrats will be selecting someone to challenge incumbent U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, and Republican voters in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District will select a candidate to challenge incumbent Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat from Lewiston.

When the Legislature adjourned quickly in March, it passed emergency legislation that broadly expanded the powers of the governor’s office to respond to the pandemic, including the ability to postpone or change how the primary is conducted. The special legislation did not give Mills the authority to alter the general election in November.

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