Voters in Maine’s biggest city can cast in-person absentee ballots beginning Monday and other municipalities across the state are likely to open voting next week as well.

The city of Portland announced Wednesday that in-person voting would be available at the clerk’s temporary office space in Merrill Auditorium, accessible by the Myrtle Street entrance. Voters are asked to wear a mask while inside.

Many voters in Maine this year have expressed concern about waiting in long lines in the middle of a pandemic and, consequently, there has been increased interest in early voting. As of Tuesday, Maine voters had requested more than 260,000 absentee ballots for the Nov. 3 election, despite concerns about whether the U.S. Postal Service will deliver ballots on time.

In 2016, Maine set a record with more than 190,000 absentee ballots cast – a record that likely will be broken this year. Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap has said as many at 600,000 people could vote absentee this year, which would represent about 57 percent of the state’s 1.06 million registered voters.

People waiting in line to cast early absentee ballots at Portland City Hall in November 2018. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Demand for absentee voting is high in other states as well, even as President Trump and some Republicans have tried to sow fears that mail-in balloting is rife with potential for fraud. No evidence suggests that widespread voter fraud is expected, according to his own FBI director and many other experts.

In addition to Portland, the city of Lewiston will open for in-person absentee voting on Monday, town clerk Kathy Montejo said. Other municipalities across the state are expected to do the same. Under state law, the Maine Secretary of State’s Office must deliver ballots to municipalities 30 days before the election, according to office spokeswoman Kristen Muszynski, who said cities and towns should be getting their ballots by Friday.

“Not every municipality has the same ability to get in-person voting set up quickly, so voters should check with their towns to see what the schedule is,” she said, adding that the Secretary of State’s office has provided COVID-19 guidance to clerks.

Portland voters who requested an absentee ballot by mail will likely see their ballots arrive next week as well, the clerk’s office said. Voters throughout the state can check the status of their request by using the new tracking system set up by the Maine Secretary of State’s office.

Hours for early voting will be from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The office will stay open until 7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 15 and Thursday, Oct. 22, for ballot returns and until 7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 28, for voter registration and in-person absentee voting.

The last day for in-person absentee voting is Friday, Oct. 30. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3, and all polling places will be open in the city from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Many will have safety measures in place to combat any spread of COVID-19 and voters are urged to wear masks.

A Superior Court judge in Augusta rejected on Wednesday a request for an injunction that would have allowed absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day to be counted and to require the government to pay the postage for mailed ballots.

In Portland, ballots can be returned via mail or dropped off inside the Merrill Auditorium lobby during business hours. Ballots must be returned by 8 p.m. on Election Day or they will not be counted. Voters who requested an absentee ballot but want to vote in person are asked to bring their ballots with them.

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