Cynthia Grier drops off her absentee ballot at Portland City Hall. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

For Jude Gagner of Bangor, this year’s Maine ballot is full of questions that were too important to not vote for in person.

At the local level, the retired social worker opposes a referendum to provide $2.7 million in bond funding for improvements at Cameron Stadium because she thinks the funding could be better spent on programs to help poor people. At the top of the tickets, the 77-year-old Gagner supports Democrats including Joe Biden for president and Sara Gideon for U.S. Senate.

So when the polls opened for early voting on Monday, Gagner didn’t hesitate. Around 3 p.m., she went to a quiet Bangor City Hall, filled out her ballots and dropped them off at the clerk’s office. She was fired up to vote early and in person this year, she said, because she has lost trust that the U.S. Postal Service has enough funding and support to deliver mail-in ballots well.

“I’ve voted for Republicans in the past,” she said. “But I want to know that my vote counts, and I don’t trust that the Republicans won’t do everything they can to invalidate my vote.”

In Maine’s largest cities, it was a sign of eagerness to vote in the high-stakes election just after absentee ballots became available on Friday. They will play a massive role in the coronavirus-altered election. A record 277,000 Mainers had asked for absentee ballots by Friday, while nearly 1,600 had turned ballots in by that afternoon.

Clerks sent out ballots to many people then, and voters who received them could be seen dropping them off on Monday. Absentee ballots — which voters in Maine do not need a reason to request — can be cast in person beginning Monday in most places until 5 p.m. on Oct. 30.

For Walter and Sharon Lynch of Portland, Maine’s largest city, the day was a chance to avoid waiting in line to vote, a ritual they have done together throughout their 58 years of marriage. They were also concerned about going to a polling place with a lot of people.

“The coronavirus is a scary issue, and we’re older, and we don’t want to do anything more than we have to and put ourselves in danger,” Sharon Lynch said.

The state has been encouraging people to mail or drop their ballots off as early as possible to avoid any issues with ballots or delays in results. Maine does not accept ballots postmarked after Election Day, one of the main reasons why a ballot may be rejected. The state extended the deadline for voter registration and gave clerks more time to process ballots in 2020.

Portland has set up a temporary voting place at the Merrill Auditorium where people can drop ballots off or vote in person. A small line of voters waited before the space opened at 9 a.m. and a few voters could be seen dropping ballots off throughout the day. The whole process took perhaps less than a minute for Nasser Rohani. An Iranian immigrant, he said voting in every election was a moral obligation especially with concerns that mailed ballots may be delayed.

Portland vital records clerk Anne Clark answers questions on the first day of absentee voting at City Hall on Monday. Poll workers reported a steady stream of early voters through midday. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

“I thought the best way to avoid that was to vote in person a little further from Election Day,” he said.

There was also a steady trickle of early voters in Bangor, where more than 50 absentee votes had been cast by mid-afternoon at temporary polls set up in City Hall. Early voting will continue there for the rest of this week, then move to the Cross Insurance Center from Oct. 13 to Oct. 30.

Some of the Queen City voters who came out on Monday were motivated by the convenience of dropping their ballot off as soon as possible.

“I just got it in the mail and decided to get it done,” said Jeanne Jarvis, 77, after dropping her sealed up ballot in a box outside the municipal building. She declined to say who she was voting for at the national level, but said she was eager to support the improvements to Cameron Stadium.

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