AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — Absentee voting rates are higher than ever this presidential election cycle. In 2008, approximately 244,000 absentee votes were cast, and in 2016, they’ve already hit 250,000 — and that number is still rising.
NEWS CENTER went to Augusta to speak to deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn to learn more about the absentee voting process.
Augusta election officials are busy counting absentee ballots for the whole state that come in from the military overseas, putting in their best effort to make sure voting is accessible to everyone.
“We've been working 15 [to] 20 hours of overtime a week,” Flynn said.
Often times, military personnel scan their paper ballots and send them back electronically to be cast.
She shares a story of helping a soldier overseas access his ballot online, saying, “I'm at Bagram Airfield, and it's the middle of the night here. I'm on my dinner break, he said. Can you help me? … On the other side of the world, in harm’s way, and I have hair standing up on the back of my neck, and I'm thinking ‘this is why we do this.’"
NEWS CENTER learned that the absentee ballot process is much more hands-on than most would imagine.
“People aren't voting online, they are still marking paper ballots by hand and they're scanning it and sending it back,” Flynn said.
Sworn in election officials print the soldiers’ ballots and count them by hand, but not before Election Day. Although many are accounted for, no votes are tallied before 8 p.m. Tuesday night. Meaning that, no one, not even the election officials know the results until the final votes are cast.
Absentee ballots count exactly the same as a vote cast at the booths on Election Day. “We in Maine," Flynn said. "We count our absentees on Election Day and they're added into the totals.”
To reiterate, the ballots are processed but not tallied until 8 p.m. Election Day. However, there is one slight exception: the “hand counting” of those military ballots will start on Election Day before 8 p.m. to save time — but again, the results will not be tallied until after 8.
“Because there are so many to have to be hand counted, we are going to head to count them and we will not total anything up so there is no results that will be available until after 8 p.m.,” Flynn said.
A common thread of frustration among election officials is the idea that this election has the potential of being “rigged.”
“It makes me angry that there are people who feel that way because they don't understand how much work goes into this," Flynn said. "They show up on Election Day, you get the right valid, you get to vote.
"We are all working so hard. We have a series of laws and procedures and we retain physical custody over ballots and voting machines and all of that. We don't have time to really rig an election. It's offensive. It really is offensive.”
After more than 28 years in the business, for Flynn, it's personal.
“A lot of it is our personal integrity," she said. "I mean, this is very important to us.”
All of Flynn’s hard work, and that of all election officials behind the scenes will ensure that Maine's voice will be heard Tuesday.