Maine’s July 14 primary election will be its first statewide vote under the threat of the novel coronavirus, and we don’t at this time know exactly how much risk there is with in-person voting.

But we know for certain that absentee voting is perfectly safe. It is virtually free of fraud, and it eliminates risk for both the voter and the volunteer poll workers who make the system work.

Every Maine voter who can should take advantage.

Gov. Mills moved the primary, originally scheduled for June 9, in April, at a time when the municipal offices that register voters were closed and it was unclear just what the pandemic would look like by the time Mainers went to the polls.

Mills’ postponed the election just after Wisconsin voters went to the polls amid worries that it would cause a massive spike in cases. The spike never materialized, but that was likely because residents and poll workers took care, both on voting day and afterward, following hygiene guidelines and staying home.

That might mean that in-person voting can be held safely if everyone takes the necessary precautions. But it also means Maine will be more susceptible to an outbreak by mid July because residents will be voting at a time when people are likely to be out and about and congregating, not under a stay-at-home order.

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Whatever the case, the fewer people who go to the polls on July 14, the fewer opportunities there will be to spread the coronavirus. Not only does fewer people mean fewer opportunities for person-to-person contact, it also will be easier on poll workers.

The risks of going to the polls are not lost on poll workers, many of whom are retirees and in an age group particularly vulnerable to the most serious effects of the virus. Many are backing out, and municipalities are having trouble replacing them. As a result, some cities and towns are considering consolidating polling places, meaning each site would have to serve more people, and everybody would be put at additional risk.

Fortunately, any Maine voter can request an absentee ballot without giving a reason, and they may do so right now, either through their municipal clerk or through the Secretary of State’s Office. Ballots go to clerks 30 days before the election, then are mailed out to those who request one.

Completed ballots must be received by the municipality in question by 8 p.m. on Election Day. Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap advises mailing them seven days before the election to ensure they are received in time. Ballots can also be dropped off in person at the clerk’s office.

It looks like Mainers are aware of the risks this year with in-person voting. The Press Herald reported Wednesday that statewide requests for absentee ballots exceed those requested at this point in the 2018 primary.

As of June 1, the city of Portland had already received more than 5,000 requests for absentee ballots for the July 14 vote, up from about 1,300 at this point in the 2018 primary cycle, when final voter turnout was more than 15,000, the Press Herald reported.

But every voter should consider voting absentee this year. It will keep them out of harm’s way, reduce the risk for poll workers — and give everyone a stripped-down trial run for November, when one of the most consequential elections of our time will take place at a time when experts predict a resurgence of COVID-19.


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