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Early processing of record 400,000 absentee ballots underway across Maine

City and town clerks are allowed to process ballots seven days ahead of the election after Gov. Mills signed an executive order due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

WINDHAM, Maine — With just days left until Election Day, cities and towns across Maine are already processing nearly 400,000 ballots.

Gov. Janet Mills signed an Executive Order in August allowing local clerks to process ballots up to seven days ahead of the election because of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the Secretary of State's Office, a record 470,000 voters have requested absentee ballots; 390,000 have already been submitted. 

"It's very busy," Windham Town Clerk Linda Morrell said. "There's a lot of work."

Morrell said she has had to double her staff in order to process the overwhelming number of absentee ballots. More than 4,000 ballots have been cast in Windham—twice as many as 2016. 

"It's a great great thing for the voters, to get them in, get them taken care of rather than going to the polls and maybe waiting in long long lines, but there's a process to the whole thing and it's many many steps," Morrell said. 

RELATED: Gov. Mills signs executive order to facilitate voting, protect health of voters and election officials

RELATED: Absentee ballots secured in vaults, locked rooms until processing can begin

Not every Maine town has opted to participate in early processing. Major cities, including Portland, Bangor, and Lewiston are all choosing to do so.

Most of those municipalities have experienced a large turnout in absentee voting and lines at early voting locations. 

"It's going to take some time to scan those ballots," Secretary of State Matt Dunlap told NEWS CENTER Maine. 

Dunlap said there have not been any serious issues aside from a handful of minor hiccups like mailing the wrong legislative district ballots in some small towns.

RELATED: More than 73 million Americans have already voted by mail or in person

Earlier this week, elections officials discovered a student at the University of Maine in Orono submitted an absentee ballot in the name of a former roommate. That student is now facing criminal charges. 

Despite the record number of absentee ballots submitted, Dunlap said he expects early processing will allow for timely results come election night.

"It seems to be going smoothly and if it continues to go smoothly through the week and the weekend, then once we hit the total button after 8 p.m. on election night then we should have results fairly quickly," Dunlap said. 

Early voting in most cities and towns wraps up Friday. 

If you have yet to submit your absentee ballot, officials urge you to avoid putting it in the mail and instead use a dropbox or hand it in in-person by 8 p.m. Nov. 3.

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