Voters walk down the lobby hallway of the Cross Insurance Center where voting booths were set up during the July 14 primary election in Bangor. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine cities and towns will have more time to process absentee ballots ahead of the Nov. 3 election under a Thursday executive order from Gov. Janet Mills.

The state set a record for the share of absentee ballots sent in for the July 14 primary after promotion from the state and municipalities. Secretary of State Matt Dunlap expects 60 percent of voters — potentially 463,000 people — to cast votes that way ahead of the general election altered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Voting officials across the country have been concerned that changes to U.S. Postal Service policies, combined with the expected influx of ballots and reports of mail delay, could deter voters from using the service. The Postal Service has advised Maine voters to mail their ballots in at least 15 days before the election to ensure they arrive on time.

The Democratic governor’s order looks to assuage some of those concerns. It allows municipalities to begin processing absentee ballots seven days before the election — four is normally allowed — and extends the deadline for voter registration by mail six days to Oct. 19.

It also allows Dunlap to issue guidelines on how municipalities could utilize external drop boxes as an alternative to in-person voting or mailing ballots.

One change would allow municipal clerks to employ poll workers from adjoining counties if none are available. Some places reported difficulties in recruiting poll workers ahead of the primary, as those workers are often older residents who may face heightened health risks from the virus.

The order is in line with actions Mills has previously taken to loosen voting restrictions during the pandemic. She waived the deadline for requesting an absentee ballot and allowed voters to request and return absentee ballots up until 8 p.m. on Election Day for the primary.

Clarification: An earlier version of this story used too high of a turnout estimate for the 2020 election. Based on 2016 turnout, the secretary of state’s estimated share of absentee voters in this election would equal roughly 463,000 early ballots.