The July 14 primary saw approximately 190,000 requests for absentee ballots statewide. Compared to the 35,982 requested for the June 2018 primary, that’s a roughly five-fold increase.
In many area towns, absentee ballots made up as many as half the ballots cast. That ultimately meant more hand–counting for some election clerks and generally a later evening overall for poll workers.
In Maine, absentee voting—also known as mail-in voting—is already well established. Voters do not need a reason to vote absentee, and, in the time of COVID-19, many municipalities asked voters to consider this method to minimize exposure and reduce the amount of traffic on election day.
For the most part, Mainers embraced an expanded vote-by-mail system and made the most of voting during a pandemic.
Now, a week after the election, it appears as if things went well locally. Yes, there were isolated incidents where voters experienced frustration—mostly over procedure and the steps needed to vote by mail, which differs from stopping into your town office to vote absentee.
Nationally, there have been no reports of wide-spread voter fraud or major problems reported at the polls.
In any given election year, there are mail-in ballots that aren’t counted for one reason or another. In 2016, according to The Washington Post, 319,000 mailed ballots were not counted in that year’s general election, representing 1 percent of all mailed ballots. While 1 percent might not seem like a large number on the surface, those 319,000 voters expected their votes to count.
This June in Virginia, close to 6 percent of ballots were rejected for being late. Arkansas, Oklahoma and Rhode Island saw 3 percent of ballots rejected for the same reason, according to National Public Radio. Mississippi, with .16 percent rejection rate, was the 12th and final state on the NPR list.
Ballots are not only rejected because they arrive late. They are also rejected if they are not signed properly, if the signature does not match the one on file or if the forms are not filled out correctly.
With the General Election coming up in November, it is likely that COVID-19 will again play a role in how Mainers vote. Now is the time to iron out all the wrinkles. If more absentee ballots will be cast in this next election, then it is crucial that voters are educated so that they can return their ballots in a complete and timely fashion – the earlier the better. The beleaguered Postal Service recommends voters request ballots at least 15 days before the election and mail them back at least a week before they are due. State and local governments must be equipped to issue those ballots and process them efficiently.
Maine’s absentee voting system works, but there’s always room for improvement. Let’s make sure every vote counts in November and beyond.