BATH  — Bath will soon have a new absentee ballot drop box outside City Hall, allowing voters to deliver ballots at their convenience in advance of the Nov. 3 general election.

Bath City Clerk Darci Wheeler said she wanted to join cities like Bangor and Lewiston and offer the safe alternative for voters coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, which is complicating an election she expects will draw a nearly 100% voter turnout for Bath.

“One of the biggest things for us is when people bring in their ballots, especially at this time when we can’t have a lot of people in an office at a time (and our office is a small space), you want to try to make it as safe and easy for the voter as possible,” Wheeler said Wednesday.

The collection box can hold up to 1,000 absentee ballots. It will be made available to voters starting in early October. Wheeler or her staff will retrieve and secure the ballots each morning and evening.

In Brunswick, Deputy Town Clerk Susan Karnes said a secure drop box will be placed near the front door of the town office.

Topsham Town Clerk Linda Dumont said she is considering purchasing one as well. The town used its outdoor tax collection mailbox at the town office to collect absentee ballots for the June 14 primary. Dumont said was heavily used.

Wheeler said the drop box may allay concerns over absentee ballots. The Associated Press reported Aug. 13 that President Trump had acknowledged he’s starving the U.S. Postal Service of money to make it harder for it to process an expected surge of mail-in ballots.

Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey announced Tuesday that he is joining a coalition of state Attorneys General in filing a federal lawsuit challenging nationwide operational changes at the US Postal Service. He noted that changes such as limiting staff overtime have hindered prompt delivery of mail.

Like Wheeler, Dumont has also addressed concerns from voters about mailing their absentee ballots, including in July for the primary election. Some voters complained they didn’t receive ballots until after the July 14 election.

“I would like to think the boxes are going to be used a lot, just from experience, so I would think that will alleviate quite a bit of the postal service issue,” Dumont said.

Dumont said she expects a large volume of absentee ballots in the November election. As of Wednesday, she’d already received about 500 requests for absentee ballots out of about 7,800 registered voters.

Kristen Schulze Muszynski, a spokesperson for the Maine Secretary of State, said as of Wednesday morning the state had received 36,500 absentee ballot requests through its online service that launched Monday morning. The state had a total of 1.06 million voters as of July 14 and Muszynski said the Secretary of State estimates a 60% voter turnout in November, “looking at a big chunk of that being absentee.”

Muszynski said the secure ballot drop boxes are allowed via a law change in 2019 to make it easier for people to hand-deliver ballots securely even when town offices are closed, and since many town officers have limited hours. She said the state is using federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act money to reimburse municipalities for 80% of the cost of a drop box for absentee ballots.

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