A woman votes in person in Falmouth during the July primary elections. Many towns had significantly higher absentee voters compared with in-person traffic due to the pandemic. File

BATH — Despite there being no end in sight for the coronavirus pandemic, Bath City Clerk Darci Wheeler is bracing for a high voter turnout in November.

Wheeler said she saw a record 1,409 absentee ballots at the June primaries, more than twice the number that voted in person, which mirrors the experience of most southern Midcoast clerks.

Though ballots for the general election will not be available until Oct. 2, Wheeler  said she has received about 800 requests for ballots as of Aug. 27.

Darci Wheeler, Bath’s city clerk, expects a particularly high number of absentee ballot requests for November’s presidential election, and as of Aug. 27 had already received about 800, despite the ballots themselves not being available until early October. Times Record File

Wheeler plans to have 16-20 people on hand to process early absentee ballots; normally she’d have half that number.

The state has also given municipalities more time to do so in advance of Election Day: Seven days instead of four, according to Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap. In-person absentee balloting is usually allowed only until the Friday before the election.

June’s vote “went pretty smoothly,” Dunlap said. “We spent several months trying to figure out how to run a statewide election in the middle of a global pandemic.”

Social distancing protocols, spacing out voting booths and personal protective equipment for all poll workers were part of the planning process. There was no spike in infections following the primary.

“That tells us that the guidelines work, so we’re going to do very much the same thing for the November election,” Dunlap said.

Maine had 27-28% turnout, about double what it sees for a primary, and about 205,000 people requesting absentee ballots, “which is just over the moon compared to previous elections,” Dunlap said.

The state issued about 35,000 absentee ballots in the June 2018 primary, and he expects about 600,000 absentee ballot requests this fall.

“I’m hoping a lot of people have voted by then, and we can process them early, and then we can take that time and really dedicate (it) for the in-person voters that feel more comfortable doing it that way,” Wheeler said.

One key consideration for November versus July: the colder weather.

“I have to think about how I’m going to get people in and keep them 6 feet apart, socially distanced,” Wheeler said.

Yarmouth saw 2,866 people vote absentee in July – twice the prior record – and only 939 in person, according to Town Clerk Jenn Doten. She said “it was fantastic” to see so many people voting that way to stay safe, and “we are hoping that people will choose to do this again and apply early.”

Although voters can apply early, ballots won’t be available until Oct. 5, Doten said.

In-person voting will be allowed prior to Election Day on Mondays through Thursdays, and some Saturdays, and a larger absentee ballot drop box will be outside Town Hall.

Information on absentee voting can be found at maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/voter-info/absent.html.

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