Despite the pandemic, on July 14, Maine held a primary and referendum election with unusually high turnout and an unprecedented level of absentee voting. We mostly didn’t see the long lines and poll closures that marked the primaries in Wisconsin and Georgia earlier this year. Clerks and poll workers told observers from the League of Women Voters of Maine that they were proud and relieved that their hard work paid off to keep voters safe.

Nonetheless, many officials admitted that they are terrified for November. With the presidential election, we expect to see record-high turnout, and rates of absentee voting as much as twice to three times the prior high-water mark. We have already stretched the capacity of our absentee ballot process and our town and city administrations to their limits. The general election is just over three months away, and Maine – and the nation – are running out of time to ensure every voter can cast a ballot safely.

In order to run a safe and fair election this November, Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins and other federal leaders must urgently invest in and implement election protection reforms across the country. All Americans should have the same ability to cast their ballot as we do, and no American should be forced to choose between their health and their vote this year.

Experts estimate that the reforms needed to secure our elections will require a $4 billion investment from Congress for states and precincts, $400 million of which has already been sent to states. Many of these important reforms are laid out in the HEROES Act, including:

• Ensuring that every state, including Maine, takes steps to protect the health and safety of poll workers and voters by providing funding for protective equipment.

• Expanding voter registration options such as online registration and same-day registration.

• Enacting no-excuse postage-paid absentee voting as an option for every voter in Maine and across America.

• Providing assistance at the polls for voters whose first language is not English, or voters with disabilities or other needs.

Here in Maine, we already have no-excuse absentee voting and same-day voter registration. Maine was able to hold a safe election last week because the vast majority of voters cast absentee ballots. Those who voted in person had the benefit of social distancing and protective equipment in polling places. But November’s electorate will be two to three times larger and have many more first-time voters who will need to register. We still need online voter registration, expanded capacity to process absentee ballots quickly and securely and a postage-paid absentee ballot request sent to every household.

Our towns and cities must be able to purchase secure drop boxes, pay postage, lease high-speed scanners and bring in extra poll workers to manage COVID procedures and take the place of poll workers who are high-risk. The Secretary of State’s Office needs resources to implement ballot tracking, online voter registration and the public information campaign to ensure that voters know when and how to vote. With our state and municipal budgets plunging toward deficits, our local administrators need the federal government to act, and act quickly, to ensure they have the resources to prepare in time for November.

We cannot allow the right to vote safely become another polarizing issue in our country. More people safely accessing the polls in November does not give either party an upper hand. Research shows that access to absentee voting equally increases the number of voters from each political party.

Here in Maine, the option of absentee voting is a long-standing tradition, widely used by Republicans, Democrats and independents alike. There is absolutely no evidence that measures to help people vote safely would increase the risk of election fraud. In the 2018 midterm election, more than 1 in 4 voters nationwide, and 30 percent in Maine, cast their votes by mail, and the results were fair and accurate.

This November we must protect our democracy and, therefore, the integrity of our elections, beginning with ensuring all Maine voters and those across the country are able to exercise their constitutional right to vote.

No one should have to choose between their health and their vote.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.