Maine's top election official is encouraging people to vote via absentee ballot during the July primary election to limit the exposure voters and polling workers have to the coronavirus.
The state will still hold in-person balloting July 14 with new social distancing protocols, but it's easier — and safer — to vote via absentee ballot, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said this week.
“It's a simple way to cast your vote from the safety of your own home," Dunlap said in a video posted on social media.
The primary elections, originally scheduled for June 8, were delayed by Democractic Gov. Janet Mills because of the coronavirus pandemic.
On the delayed July 14 ballot are primary races for the U.S. Senate and House, along with primaries for all 186 legislative seats. Those elections will determine who is on the November ballot.
Also on the statewide ballot are two bond questions totaling $120 million. That includes $105 million for transportation improvement projects and $15 million to expand high-speed internet in underserved areas.
Maine allows voters to request an absentee ballot for any reason, amounting to an early voting system in the state.
Last week, President Donald Trump stepped up his attacks on mail voting, accusing Michigan and Nevada of engaging in voter fraud and suggesting that federal funds could be withheld from those states.
Like Maine, Michigan provides no-excuse absentee balloting. And Nevada is holding an all-mail primary election on June 9. Nevada election officials mailed absentee ballots to all registered voters.
In Maine, absentee ballots will be mailed to municipal clerks 30 days before the election, but voters can go ahead and place their requests now via the state’s online website or through local clerks.
Some cities, like Lewiston, have asked to consolidate polling places to reduce the need for workers and to reduce exposure.
Some clerks are scrambling to line up polling workers, many of whom are retirees whose age makes them vulnerable to the coronavirus. They're also looking at safety guidelines.
By using absentee ballots, voters and polling workers will be safer, and there will be less strain on polling places the day of the primary election, said Lewiston City Clerk Kathy Montejo.
“We’re asking people to consider voting via absentee for basically the health of the entire community,” she said.
In Maine's largest city, City Clerk Kathy Jones said her biggest worry is simply ensuring there are enough polling place workers in Portland.
Expanded absentee voting would reduce lines on Election Day and help ensuring the election runs smoothly, she said.
The state has requested $3.2 million from the federal government to provide gloves and masks for election workers, to print additional absentee ballots and make other adjustments.
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