Absentee ballot requests are way up



MOUNT DESERT ISLAND — Maybe it’s concern about the coronavirus. Or maybe it’s uncertainty over the reliability of mail delivery. 

But whatever the reason, local town clerks are receiving more inquiries than usual related to voting in the November election and more requests for absentee ballots.  

Registered voters may request absentee ballots anytime between now and Election Day, Nov. 3, but they won’t receive their ballot until around Oct. 1. Under state law, absentee ballots must be available at least 30 days before Election Day. This year, that date is Oct. 5. 

“I would say the biggest concern I have heard so far is about the mail: Is the Postal Service going to deliver on time?” said Mount Desert Town Clerk Claire Woolfolk. “That’s out of my control. But I encourage people not to set the ballots aside and sit on them, but to return them as soon as possible.” 

Tremont Town Clerk Katie Dandurand received 30 absentee ballot requests in one day last week. 

“That’s a lot for Tremont,” she said. 

Southwest Harbor Town Clerk Marilyn Lowell told the Islander, “A lot more people than normal are requesting absentee ballots, that’s for sure. 

Bar Harbor Town Clerk Sharon Linscott said a lot of people have been asking her how absentee voting works. And she is encouraging people to vote absentee this fall because of coronavirus restrictions at the polls on Election Day. 

“With social distancing, we can only accommodate 15 voters at a time, and people will have to stand 6 feet apart in line,” she said.  

With a large in-person turnout, the line of people waiting to vote could be extremely long.  

Linscott noted that 80 percent of the people who voted in the primary election in Bar Harbor in July cast absentee ballots. 

“We only had about 400 people come to the polling place on election day, and that was manageable,” she said. 

Addressing the concerns that some people have expressed about whether it will be safe to mail in their absentee ballots, Linscott said, “I have been telling people I have every confidence in our postal system here, because they went above and beyond for me in July. The day of the election, the local post office made three trips to the polls to deliver ballots.” 

She said that on the day of the primary election, she got a call from someone at the mail processing facility in Hampden who had a Bar Harbor ballot. 

“He drove down and brought it to me at five minutes to 8 p.m. [when the polls closed],” Linscott said. “They made sure that every ballot they had on election day got delivered to where it needed to be.” 

For the July primary, she had a large wooden ballot box placed in the lobby of the Municipal Building to make it easier for people who wanted to drop off their absentee ballots. 

“For the fall election, I have also ordered an outdoor secure lockbox,” she said. “That will provide another way for people to safely return their ballots to us if they do not feel confident in mailing them. 

“In addition, in the two weeks before the election, I will be setting up the polling place upstairs in the auditorium with social distancing. That will allow people to vote in the presence of the clerk.” 

Lowell said she plans to put a locked drop-box in the Southwest Harbor Police Department entryway “for anyone who wants to drop their ballot off when we are not open.” 

Swan’s Island Town Clerk Gwen May said last Friday that she had already received at least a dozen absentee ballot requests, which is unusual this far before Election Day.  

She said she knows that some people prefer not to vote in person because of the coronavirus. At the same time, there are those who are concerned about mailing their ballots. 

“There have been people on Facebook saying you can’t trust the mail,” she said. “I’m going to put out something very short explaining how (absentee voting) is done and that it’s very safe, just to ease people’s minds.” 

Of the town clerks the Islander contacted, only Cranberry Isles Town Clerk Denise MacCormick said she has fielded no more election-related questions than usual. 

“I’ve gotten a few absentee ballot requests, but not anything unusual for here,” she said. “So far, no one seems to have any issues or questions.” 

 

 

 

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How to vote absentee 

MOUNT DESERT ISLAND — If you want to vote ahead of Election Day, Nov. 3, there are three ways to request an absentee ballot. 

You can go to your town clerk’s office and pick up an application. You can call the town clerk’s office and ask them to mail you oneOr you can go to your town’s website and click on a link to the Maine secretary of state’s office. 

“You can request an absentee ballot right there; it’s super simple,” said Mount Desert Town Clerk Claire Woolfolk. “We then receive the request electronically. 

Sometimes, when someone does a hand-written application, we might have some difficulty reading it. So, we really like the electronic ones. 

Southwest Harbor Town Clerk Marilyn Lowell said, “Most people are applying for absentee ballots electronically, but we do have quite a few who come in.” 

Woolfolk said she checks to make sure that everyone who requests an absentee ballot is a registered voter. 

If they are not, we follow up and try to get them registered. 

Absentee ballots are to be mailed to everyone who has applied for one around Oct. 1. 

Once you have received and marked your ballot, you can mail it to your town clerk, deliver it yourself or have an immediate family member deliver it for you. 

 

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]

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