In this Oct. 25, 2012 file photo, voters cast their votes through absentee ballots for the November election at the town hall in Cape Elizabeth. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

The Nov. 3 election is right around the corner, but Mainers don’t need to wait to have their voices heard.

Mainers can vote absentee — either in person or by mail — anytime within 30 days of Election Day. Already it looks like absentee voting will play a bigger role in this election, as the coronavirus pandemic has raised safety concerns about masses of voters congregating at polling stations.

Roughly 261,000 Mainers had requested absentee ballots as of earlier this week, which is nearing a record high already and is roughly one-third of the turnout in the 2016 presidential election. With the election just weeks away, that number is likely to grow quickly.

Here’s what Mainers need to know about voting by absentee this election.

When can I get an absentee ballot?

Absentee ballots will be available from city and town clerks starting Friday, Oct. 2, which is also the day that they will be sent to many of the voters who requested them early. Absentee ballots can also be cast in person at municipal offices beginning on Oct. 5 in most places until 5 p.m. on Oct. 30.

The U.S. Postal Service recommends that voters request absentee ballots no later than 15 days before Election Day to ensure they arrive on time in anticipation of a late flood of mail-in ballots. The deadline to request an absentee ballot for the general election is 5 p.m. Oct. 29.

Where can I get an absentee ballot?

Mainers can get an absentee ballot from their town office or city hall in person or by phone. An absentee ballot can also be requested online through the Maine secretary of state’s office. Military service members and overseas voters can request a ballot through the secretary of state’s office.

How long will it take to get my absentee ballot?

Mainers who have requested an absentee ballot should get it in the mail within seven to 10 business days.

Do I need a reason to request an absentee ballot?

Not in Maine. Any registered Maine voter can ask for an absentee ballot for any reason.

Will the absentee ballots use ranked-choice voting?

Yes, just like the ballots on Election Day. Ranked-choice voting is set to be used for this year’s presidential and U.S. Senate races. While the use of the method in the presidential race may remain under legal challenge as the Maine Republican Party teases an U.S. Supreme Court appeal of earlier rulings rejecting a related people’s veto effort, the secretary of state’s office has printed ballots that use ranked-choice voting for the presidential election. Barring a surprise, this is how Electoral College votes will be allocated in Maine.

When do I need to return my absentee ballot?

That depends on whether you plan to return your ballot by mail. The Postal Service recommends that voters mail their ballots — complete with postage, unless provided with a prepaid envelope — at least seven days before the election. Returning a full slate of federal, state and local ballots will require two stamps. All mailed-in ballots will be postmarked, but voters should deposit the envelope containing their ballot in a mailbox before the scheduled collection time to ensure prompt delivery.

Ballots can be returned in person to local election clerks or designated drop boxes, if available, up to 8 p.m. on Election Day.

How do I know if my absentee ballot was received?

Mainers who are concerned about their absentee ballot being counted can check on its status using a new look-up tool on the Maine secretary of state’s website.

What if my ballot is rejected?

Every election, a small percentage of absentee ballots are rejected. The most common reason for rejections is ballots arriving after the deadline. Putting your ballot in the mail several weeks in advance or returning it in person can help ensure that it does not arrive late. The next most common reason for absentee ballot rejections is voters forgetting to sign the envelope, so make sure to sign the flap on the back.

If you know your absentee ballot has been rejected, you can request another absentee ballot or vote in person. Do not try to vote in person if your absentee ballot has been accepted. It is not allowed and it creates headaches for local officials on Election Day.

What happens if I try to vote in person as well?

Maine voters who have completed and returned an absentee ballot won’t be able to cast another ballot at their local polling station, according to the secretary of state’s office. Election clerks keep a voter list, and those who have returned an absentee ballot before Election Day will have an “AV” mark next to their name. On Election Day, those voter lists will be updated as voters continue to return absentee ballots.

But if a Mainer happens to vote in person before that absentee ballot is received, the absentee ballot will be rejected.

BDN writer Jessica Piper contributed to this report.

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