AUGUSTA — A judge on Wednesday rejected a request for an injunction allowing absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day to be counted and to require the government to pay the postage for mailed ballots.

Plaintiffs including the Alliance for Retired Americans said a rapid shift to absentee voting during the pandemic represented a significant change for Maine and that voters could be disenfranchised unless several absentee ballot and voter registration procedures were changed.

But Superior Court Justice William R. Stokes said changing the rules so close to the election would not be in the public interest; he also found that the state’s existing rules present no irreparable harm to voters.

One of the proposed changes was to extend the deadline for absentee ballots because of U.S. Postal Service delays.

As it stands, absentee ballots must be in clerks’ hands by the time polls close but the plaintiffs wanted to extend the deadline to allow ballots postmarked by Election Day to be counted.

“The ‘delivery deadline’ has been in existence for many years and, as far as the court can tell, has never been viewed as imposing an unreasonable burden on the right to vote. It is a deadline, and just like any deadline, there can be serious consequences if it is not met,” Stokes wrote.

The judge also rejected other arguments about the process of registering to vote and stipulations for absentee ballots, along with the argument that voters shouldn’t have to pay postage. The judge rejected plaintiffs’ contention that postage was akin to a “poll tax.”

The ACLU of Maine joined the lawsuit. Defendants were Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap and Attorney General Aaron Frey.

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