Editor’s Note: One in a frequent series of stories examining Maine’s voting system.

Voters’ anxiety is running at an all-time high in Maine and across the nation, fueled by concerns about U.S. Postal Service delays and President Trump’s unfounded allegations of mail-in voting fraud.

That’s prompting second thoughts among some Maine voters who have requested absentee ballots but now are concerned about whether their votes will get counted and wonder whether it would be better to vote in-person on Election Day.

State and local election officials say they’re getting calls from voters who want to know if they can change their minds about how they cast their ballots, even if they’ve already requested an absentee ballot.

Those officials says it’s OK if you change your mind about how you cast your ballot, but you need to do it sooner rather than later. And if you’ve already mailed or otherwise dropped off your completed ballot at town hall or in a drop-box, it’s too late to change anything.

Kristen Muszynski, spokeswoman for Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, the state’s top election official, said voters who request and receive absentee ballots are being encouraged to cast those ballots “ASAP either by mail or to the clerk/dropbox.”

“We do not advise voters to bring their ballot with them to vote in person on Election Day, as it creates complications with clerks’ accounting for the ballots,” Muszynski said in an email. “If you’re not sure if you want to vote in person on Election Day or not, you can keep your options open with the ability to vote in-person absentee at your municipal office before Election Day.”

Ultimately, voters who have not completed and returned their absentee ballots still have the option to vote in person, but those who have returned their absentee ballot will not be issued another ballot at the polls, Muszynski said.

As of Tuesday, a record number of more than 261,000 Maine voters had requested an absentee ballot, which they can return by mail or in person, before 8 p.m. on Election Day. This process is being encouraged by health and election officials as a way to help prevent further spread of COVID-19.

But many voters are concerned about the election. Some fear they could expose themselves to the virus if they go to the polls on Election Day, while others ponder the president’s allegations of mail-ballot fraud, as well as the doubts he is sowing over whether he will accept the results of the election should he lose.

Portland voter Jason Brown said he expects “shenanigans.” Although he has completed an absentee ballot request and is waiting for the ballot to arrive, He is now contemplating turning out to vote in-person.

“It appears it’s the president’s ploy to declare victory on election night based only on the returns from election night, and not on the ballots that may be come in or be counted after that,” Brown said. “I just want to be certain that my vote gets counted as early as possible, counted that evening as I wouldn’t want it to be tied up in that argument.”

Brown said he believes all votes should be counted before a winner is declared, and to avoid potential exposure to COVID-19, he said he will now likely return the ballot himself to Portland’s ballot drop box rather than put it in the mail.

In Maine, pending the outcome of a lawsuit in Kennebec County Superior Court, absentee ballots need to be returned before the polls close at 8 p.m. on election night to be counted.

State and local election officials say Brown’s strategy is a good one for absentee voters, who will soon begin receiving their ballots in the mail, if they are concerned about returning the ballot by mail.

“Voters perceive a lot to be at stake here,” said Matt Levendusky, a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “Voters have strong feelings about President Trump, and so the election takes on an out-sized importance.”

Levendusky, who is also the Stephen & Mary Baran Chair in the Institutions of Democracy at the Annenberg Public Policy Center, said choices between the top two contenders in the race for the White House, Trump and his Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden are stark.

He said that, coupled with new concerns over replacing Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is fueling anxiety among voters. “The candidates have quite different platforms and plans for America, and the fight over replacing the late Justice Ginsburg further emphasizes the stakes,” he said.

He noted that many voters are also voting by absentee ballot for the first time and are troubled by concerns about the U.S. Postal Service and its ability to handle the volume of ballots.

“Add to that President Trump suggesting that he may not accept the results of the election, and concerns about vote counts, and it’s a stress-prone environment,” Levendusky said. “So even if voters would normally be a bit nervous (since this is a new system for them), the information environment magnifies those concerns considerably.”

Sandi Knakal, another long-time Portland voter, said she requested an absentee ballot because she wanted to be prepared if COVID-19 infection rates spiked near Election Day, or if she was sick herself.

“I’d prefer to vote in person because it feels more secure and my vote would be counted on Election Day and would be less likely to be questioned,” Knakal said.

Jessica Grondin, a spokeswoman for the city of Portland, said the City Clerk’s Office is hearing from absentee voters who may now want to instead vote in person. The advice for voters is if they decide to vote in person, they should not return their absentee ballot. They also will not be allowed to request a second absentee ballot to cast in-person at City Hall before Election Day.

“Your only other choice is to vote in-person at your polling place on Election Day as long as your absentee ballots did not get returned to our office,” Grondin said. She said absentee ballots can also be dropped in the city’s ballot drop box in the clerk’s office during regular business hours before the election.

Muszynski, the spokeswoman for the Secretary of State, said if a large number of voters change their minds and hold onto their absentee ballots, only to turn up on Election Day, that could gum up the works and slow returns.

“If we have a high number of people doing this, however, we will run out of ballots, as we only print one for each voter,” Muszynski said. “This leads to clerks having to copy ballots and those types of ballots must be hand-tabulated, which can slow down the process all around.”

Do you have a question about Maine’s election system or how your vote will be counted? Send it to [email protected]com

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