Gov. Janet Mills and other state leaders are discussing ways to safeguard Maine’s absentee voting process in the wake of a letter the U.S. Postal Service sent to Maine and 45 other states warning that it can’t guarantee mailed ballots will arrive in time to be counted during the November election.

Mills, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap and Attorney General Aaron Frey have been working together and with local election officials to prepare for the election in light of the letter and recent threats by President Trump to financially hamstring the service, Mills’ spokeswoman said on Friday.

“Gov. Mills is deeply concerned by the letter, which, taken in conjunction with the president’s disturbing comments yesterday regarding funding for the postal service, raises the specter of ballots delayed, ballots lost in the mail, ballots not counted,” Lindsay Crete said in an email. “These pronouncements from the highest levels of government portend a serious threat to the very foundations of our democracy.”

All four members of Maine’s congressional delegation have voiced concerns over postal service delays or sent letters to newly appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy urging him to reverse cost-cutting and efficiency measures that have slowed mail delivery and could jeopardize high volume mail-in voting spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The moves by DeJoy, a former supply-chain CEO and a prominent donor to Trump and other Republicans, comes as the president has criticized mail-in voting heading into a tough re-election battle against Democrat Joe Biden. Trump, who votes by mail, has railed against efforts to allow more people to do so, which he argues without evidence will lead to increased voter fraud that could cost him the election.

DeJoy said the operational changes being made at the postal service, such as eliminating overtime and holding mail if distribution centers are running behind, are not intended to disenfranchise voters.

The post office is merely “asking elected officials and voters to realistically consider how the mail works, and be mindful of our delivery standards, in order to provide voters ample time to cast ballots through the mail,” DeJoy wrote in a letter to Democratic leaders in Congress.

Dunlap, who last week expressed few concerns about mail delivery, said Friday that one option the state could consider is changing its law to allow mailed-in absentee ballots to be counted even if they arrive after the polls close, provided they were postmarked by Election Day. Attorneys general from several states, including Maine, are also in preliminary discussions about a possible lawsuit to force the Trump administration to adequately fund the postal service to protect voting rights.

More than 200,000 Mainers, a record number, cast absentee ballots in the July 14 primary, many by mail. Dunlap said last week he believes as many as 600,000 voters will cast absentee ballots in November, a volume never seen before. Officials have encouraged voters to cast absentee ballots to help curb the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Dunlap, a Democrat, said the postal service letter, dated July 29 and issued by the service’s general counsel, Thomas J. Marshall, was the first of its kind.

“We’ve never seen anything like it,” Dunlap said. The letter says Maine’s election laws are “incongruous with postal service delivery standards,” and it raises concerns about some of the deadlines in Maine law for obtaining absentee ballots.

“This mismatch creates the risk that ballots requested near the deadline under state law will not be returned by mail in time to be counted under your laws as we understand them,” the letter states.

The postal service released letters it sent to all 50 states and the District of Columbia on its website. While some states with permissive vote-by-mail laws were given a less stringent warning, the majority, including Maine, with restrictions on when a ballot must be cast were given a more dire warning. The letter to Maine said voters should mail their completed ballots at least 15 days before the election and they should be sent with first-class postage to ensure they arrive in time to be counted.

Maine and other states are responding as Trump has publicly said he wants to financially hobble the postal service to disrupt mail-in balloting in November. Trump has repeatedly castigated mail-in balloting, claiming it will lead to voter fraud and a “rigged” election.

The cost-cutting moves implemented by DeJoy already have delayed mail delivery by as much as a week in some places, and a new decision to decommission 10 percent of the postal service’s sorting machines sparked widespread concern that slowdowns will only worsen, The Washington Post reported. Rank-and-file postal workers say the move is ill-timed and could sharply diminish the speedy processing of flat mail, including letters and ballots.

The removal of postal service mail boxes triggered concerns and anger in Oregon and Montana, the Associated Press reported. Boxes were also removed in Indiana.

In Montana, postal officials said the removals were part of a program to eliminate underused drop boxes. But after the outcry, which included members of Congress, the officials said they were suspending the program in Montana. It was unclear if the program was also suspended in other states.

Dunlap said he had not been “acutely concerned” about mail delays given that Maine’s recent primary had very few stranded ballots.

A check recently by the Press Herald with city clerks in Maine’s largest cities found they had only a smattering of mailed ballots that arrived after the polls closed. In most cases, the late ballots were mailed on or within a day or two of Election Day.

But Dunlap said Trump is ramping up the rhetoric on forcing mail delays.

“He has certainly become more implicit in his statements on this,” Dunlap said.

Dunlap said the state had about $3.2 million in CARES Act funding that had been set aside for elections but some of those funds were used to help cities and towns conduct primaries in July. “We didn’t use nearly all of it, but once it’s gone, it’s gone,” he said.

He noted that some communities were using the funding to set up secure drop boxes for ballots, so voters could return their own ballots and not have to mail them.

Dunlap said he was also in talks with Mills’ office about a change to Maine law that would allow ballots postmarked by Election Day to be counted for some period after the election. But that would delay final election results, and in a close race that could be a problem.

Mills could probably use her executive powers under the state’s civil emergency to allow ballots received after Election Day to be counted, Dunlap said.

“But we are nowhere near that yet,” he said.

Maine voters will elect all 186 members of the Legislature in November and those lawmakers need to be sworn into office just 29 days after the election, Dunlap noted. A delay in the election results could leave the Legislature unable to be seated or elect its presiding officers and begin work.

Maine regularly has one of the highest rates of voter participation in the nation and Mills intends to protect that as well, said Crete, the press secretary.

“Gov. Mills and Secretary of State Dunlap will continue to work with municipal officials and the Attorney General’s Office in order to preserve Maine’s historically high voter turnout in this Presidential election, safeguarding the sacred right of all Maine people to vote,” she said.


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