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Absentee ballots now available for Mainers ahead of November election

Meanwhile, in New Hampshire, election officials work to maintain trust after one town misplaced 190 ballots in 2020.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Eager Maine voters can begin applying for their absentee ballots on the state's website.

Applications went online Monday, though election officials won't begin mailing ballots until Oct. 8, one month ahead of Election Day. Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows said those who apply early will get theirs first, as town clerks work to keep up.

"Generally, our clerks do an excellent job of responding to those requests, even last minute," Bellows said during a virtual interview as she was attending an election security conference in Baltimore. "But it's important to know, Maine law does have a cutoff for absentee ballot requests. That's the Thursday before Election Day."

Bellows said election officials counted a state-record 514,429 absentee ballots during the 2020 election. She anticipates a large turnout this fall for gubernatorial and congressional races. Meanwhile, in New Hampshire, the attorney general's office finished its look into what wasn't counted in 2020.

Deputy General Counsel to the Attorney General Myles Matteson explained how a still-unknown election worker in Bedford moved 190 absentee ballots that ended up not being counted in the 2020 general election. Attorney General John Formella ruled it was an accident and didn't impact any races.

"Elections are run by people, and people make mistakes," Matteson told NEWS CENTER Maine on Tuesday. "In this case, it was an inadvertent mistake by, likely, a volunteer election official."

Secretary of State David Scanlan, who took office in January 2021, will appoint an election monitor for Bedford for the September primary, with Formella advising Scanlan during the selection process.

Andrew Smith, head of surveying at UNH, and a political science professor said finding uncounted ballots is somewhat rare, but it does happen.

"Especially in a town like Bedford, which has one polling place and over 14,000— close to 15,000 voters back in 2020. That's not surprising that some of the absentee ballots got misplaced," he explained. 

Despite the error, he believed New Hampshire's electoral fail-safes worked in the end.

"You can go back and look at them. You had a paper trail for you to do that," he said. "And, I think this examination of what's happened in Bedford is evidence that that works. There are gonna be human mistakes in any big operation like this."

With a gubernatorial race and two House contests of its own, as well as a Senate seat up for grabs in New Hampshire, both states are poised to attract another large absentee turnout in November.

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