The COVID-19 pandemic changed a lot about Tuesday’s election in Maine – and nothing at all.

Sam Monahan registers to vote at South Portland’s Boys & Girls Club on Tuesday morning, while voter deputy Ollie LaChapelle sanitizes her hands. Same-day registration is one of the inclusive-voting laws that enable Maine to regularly record high voter turnout rates. Michele McDonald/Staff Photographer

Uncertainty about the safety of in-person voting led to the record-setting use of absentee ballots, with roughly half of the state’s registered voters casting a ballot before Election Day.

But when all is said and done, the election looked a lot like every other one in Maine. Despite the disruption caused by the novel coronavirus, Mainers still voted in droves, perhaps setting a turnout record. And despite the heavy use of absentee voting, the vote count went off largely without a hitch.

That’s a good sign for future elections. With so many Mainers voting early without any trouble, they’re likely to want to do the same going forward. Maine should continue to adjust its election laws and policies to make sure it can be done as smoothly as possible.

As an election official, you hope the focus following Election Day is on the winners and losers, not those who did the counting. “What we’re shooting for is absolute boredom,” Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, presiding over his final election as he reaches his term limit, told the Press Herald on Wednesday.

Dunlap got his wish this year. Aside from a few late counts and a minor hiccup or two, the counting of votes in Maine went well, even with so many people casting a ballot.


That’s a testament to the preparation of Dunlap’s office, plus the efforts of the many municipal clerks and poll workers who work long hours to make sure the election goes as planned.

And it’s at least partly thanks to the half million or so absentee ballots that were completed and turned in before polls opened on Nov. 3, making for less work on Election Day itself.

Maine, of course, has no-excuse absentee voting, meaning any voter can request and receive an absentee ballot for any reason once ballots are available. When the presence of COVID-19 made absentee voting the preferred option, Maine was ready.

No-excuse absentee voting is one of the inclusive-voting laws – including same-day voter registration – that allows Maine regularly to record one of the top voter turnout rates in the country.

In that spirit, and given the popularity of early voting, Maine should look for ways to make this new normal easier on voters – and on the election officials who count the votes.

As we’ve mentioned before, one way to increase participation is through online voter registration. Maine is one of only 10 states that does not allow it now, though you can request an application online.


Another way would be to allow permanent absentee voting, in which registered voters can put themselves on a list to receive an early ballot in every election. At least five states – a mix of red, blue and purple in political orientation – offer permanent absentee voting for all voters, while other states allow it only for some demographics, such as seniors.

And for election officials, Maine should review how we count early ballots. Clerks are normally allowed to start opening absentee ballot envelopes and put them in the counting machine four days before the election, although that was changed to seven days for this election.

The seven-day window should be kept going forward, and if processing ballots sooner would help clerks, then the window should be extended further.

Once again, voting in Maine gave us something to be proud of. But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying to make it better.

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