BANGOR, Maine — Nearly 75 percent of registered voters in Maine went to the polls for the 2004 presidential election, the highest participation rate ever recorded.

Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap on Thursday told a group of more than 300 clerks, registrars and other municipal staff members to be prepared for an even greater turnout come Nov. 4.

An exciting presidential race, contested U.S. House and Senate races — as well as statewide referendums on an Oxford County casino and a veto on beer, wine and soda taxes — could combine to energize voters even more.

“We’re certainly preparing for good turnout, although we don’t really have anything to go on specifically,” Dunlap said in an interview Thursday at Spectacular Event Center in Bangor, where he hosted the annual Elections Conference. “We’re basically here to prepare for any scenario.”

Thursday’s event was a chance for town officials to get caught up on any changes or updates to state laws regarding elections. While Dunlap said there are no major differences this year from 2004, he said the topics covered included: voter accessibility, eligibility and registration, and procedures for absentee balloting. The conference will continue through to-day.

Maine voter turnout reached a high-water mark of 74.3 per-cent in 2004, the second-highest percentage of any state in the country, Dunlap said. He admitted that as much as he would like to take credit, the number is more a testament to Mainers’ collective engagement in the civic process and to the many municipal workers who facilitate Election Day.

“It starts and ends with clerks, and I think we have the best in the country,” the secretary said.

One of those clerks, Buxton’s Joan Weeman, was honored Thursday by the Secretary of State’s Office with the 2008 Lorraine M. Fleury Award, which recognizes significant contributions to the elections process.

“When a person is described as ‘an absolutely vital and irreplaceable part of managing elections’ in their town, we listen,” Dunlap said in announcing the award.

Weeman has been involved in clerical duties in Buxton for 50 years, “exhibiting a dedication to the electoral process few people in the history of our state can match,” Dunlap said.

If Maine’s presidential primary caucuses in February are any indication, Democrats and Republicans alike are planning to mobilize in record numbers on Election Day 2008.

“There are always spikes in certain areas based on local votes,” Dunlap said. “But over-all there could be a significant up-tick.”

One of the areas that garnered attention Thursday was absentee voting. Maine changed its laws in 1999 to allow any registered voter to vote absentee. Before that year, voters were required to provide a valid reason they could not make it to the polls.

Not surprisingly, Dunlap said, the state has seen more and more absentee balloting in the past nine years.

Additionally, the Secretary of State’s Office now has a comprehensive electronic voter registration database that has helped municipalities stream-line the process.

“The bottom line is: we want to make it as easy as possible for those that want to vote to have that opportunity,” Dunlap said.

For more information about the Election Day process, readers can contact their local town offices or the Secretary of State’s Office at 626-8400. Absentee ballots will be available at most town offices beginning Monday, Sept. 22, or online at: