AUGUSTA, Maine — Editor's note: The above video explains the difference between absentee ballots and mail-in ballots.
Nearly 200,000 Mainers have requested absentee ballots so far for the Nov. 3 General Election according to data released on Tuesday by the Maine Secretary of State’s Office. In total, 196,129 people have requested ballots so far.
The new request numbers include ballot requests submitted through the online ballot request portal as well as those submitted directly to municipal clerks via other means. This data is updated by the Secretary of State's Office weekly.
When the data was first released after Labor Day, it included the first partisan breakdown of absentee ballot requests ahead of the upcoming General Election, showing Democrats dominating with about 60 percent of requests.
That trend continues in the recent data, as more than 113,000 of the requests came from Democratic voters compared to just 30,554 Republicans. The data shows 45,685 requests are from unenrolled voters, and 6,206 are registered in the Green Party.
A spokesperson for the Maine Biden campaign says Mainers are "fired up to elect Joe Biden" and "Democratic momentum across Maine is at an all-time high."
The surge in absentee ballot requests comes amid the coronavirus pandemic, as voters are being urged to opt for the absentee method rather than going to the polls on Election Day and limiting the spread of COVID-19.
Massachusetts saw a record number of mail-in ballots for its State Primary two weeks ago, putting a strain on local election officials.
But the Maine Secretary of State’s Office and Gov. Janet Mills are planning for the influx of mail-in ballots and taking steps to ensure a smooth election day in November.
The Maine Secretary of State’s Office says they’ve already surpassed the number of requests for absentee ballots “by far” for this election compared to the 2016 General Election.
In 2016, the Secretary of State's Office says they processed 41,829 requests online through the entire request period.
"We surpassed that within three days of opening up the online service this year," a spokesperson for the Secretary of State's Office said.
As of Wednesday, the number of online requests made through the portal is more than double that of 2016, standing at 83,416.
In light of the surge, Mills signed an Executive Order to ease the strains put on election officials. In addition to measures that seek to protect the health and safety of Maine voters, poll workers, and election officials, the order extends the period when municipalities can begin to process absentee ballots to up to seven days prior to the election, rather than three.
“If voters decide to wait until Election Day to return their absentee ballot and clerks have a large number of them to process that day, it could take them longer to complete their tabulations, but as long as they are all in hand by 8 pm on Election Day, they will all be counted,” a spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s Office said.
Any registered Maine voter may choose to vote absentee, either via mail or in-person at their town or city hall prior to Election Day. Voters do not need to provide a reason to vote absentee.
Maine election laws require absentee ballots to turned in to the municipal clerk by 8 p.m. on election night.
Absentee ballot requests must be made by Oct. 29, five days before the election. Municipal clerks receive the ballots 30 days prior to the election and will then begin to send ballots to voters who have requested them, beginning in early October.
The Secretary of State's Office is advising all Mainers to note the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) deadlines. The USPS has guaranteed delivery of ballots if they're put in the mail to your clerk no later than seven business days prior to Election Day.
"If it’s later than that, we advise that you drop it off in person or via dropbox if available to your clerk," the spokesperson said.
Click here to request an absentee ballot through the online service. The online service provides an email notification with a confirmation number. When the request is processed and accepted by the municipal clerk, the voter will receive additional notification and the ballot will arrive by mail. All Maine municipalities are required to accept electronic requests for absentee ballots. Voters can also print out the form and mail or hand-deliver it to their municipal clerk.