Nearly half of all registered voters in Maine already have cast their ballots heading into the weekend before Election Day.

As of Friday afternoon, Maine voters had returned 477,817 of the 522,962 absentee ballots issued by by local clerks, according to the latest figures from the Secretary of State’s Office. Record numbers of voters are using the absentee balloting process in Maine – which allows mail-in, drop-off or in-person absentee voting – rather than voting at the polling place on Election Day during the coronavirus pandemic.

Election workers watch as South Portland Assistant City Clerk Susan Mooney collects ballots that were scanned at the South Portland Community Center on Friday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

For an absentee ballot to be counted, it must be returned to local clerks by 8 p.m. Tuesday.

With a contentious presidential election and a high-profile U.S. Senate race, state election officials expect voter participation during the 2020 election to match or exceed turnout in 2016. Roughly 73 percent of registered Maine voters participated in the 2016 elections, which was the second-highest voter participation rate in the nation after Minnesota. Secretary of State Matt Dunlap has said he expects from 70 to 75 percent of registered voters to cast ballots this year.

Just under 772,000 voters cast ballots in the last presidential election. So if turnout this year is on par with 2016, more than 60 percent of the votes already would have been cast as of Friday afternoon, based on the latest absentee ballot return figures.

Maine’s absentee balloting process allows voters to vote by mail or in-person-but-early at many polling places for any reason. The deadline for eligible registered voters to request an absentee ballot was Thursday, and voters had until 5 p.m. Friday to cast an in-person absentee ballot at their town office. The 523,702 absentee ballots requested as of Friday afternoon included those being cast in-person at town offices.

Democrats have returned ballots at more than twice the pace as Republicans, although they were also more likely to request absentee ballots than their Republican counterparts.

Democrats, who are the largest voting block in Maine, accounted for 229,808 of the 477,817 returned ballots returned as of Friday afternoon, or 48 percent of the total. Unenrolled or independent voters, the second-largest group, had returned 119,129 ballots as of Friday. Republicans followed close behind with 113,241 ballots returned. Voters registered as Green Independents had returned 15,644 ballots.

Portland voters had returned 29,270 ballots as of Friday with roughly 4,000 ballots still outstanding. In 2016, there were 38,577 ballots cast in total for president in Portland. Lewiston residents had returned 12,009 absentee ballots, leaving roughly 800 issued but not yet marked as returned on the Secretary of State’s tally.

In Augusta, clerks reported receiving 6,259 ballots as of Friday with roughly 550 still outstanding. And in Bangor, voters had returned 12,605 absentee ballots out of the 13,622 that had been issued as of Friday afternoon.

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