Portland vital records clerk Anne Clark answers questions on the first day of absentee voting at City Hall on Oct. 5. Poll workers reported a steady stream of early voters through midday. Credit: Troy R. Bennett | BDN

AUGUSTA, Maine — Nearly 27,000 Maine voters have already returned absentee ballots in the first few days of voting in Maine, as concerns about mail and the pandemic have driven early voting ahead of the pivotal November election.

The first round of absentee ballots was issued on Friday and in-person absentee voting began in many towns on Monday. As of Tuesday afternoon, 26,772 voters had successfully returned absentee ballots, according to state data, equaling about 3 percent of November 2016 turnout.

Maine has now seen more than 300,000 absentee ballot requests for the November election, surpassing previous records. The early data shows a split among parties, with Democrats outpacing Republicans in both requesting and returning absentee ballots this fall, accounting for about 63 percent of ballots returned so far and 54 percent of overall requests.

Democrats typically vote absentee more often than Republicans, but the difference has been more pronounced this year as President Donald Trump, a Republican, has made unsupported claims about links between mail-in voting and fraud, though Maine Republicans have asserted that Maine’s no-reason-needed absentee request system is sound. For the July primary, Democrats also voted absentee more. Republicans were more likely to vote in person.

Relatively few ballots have been thrown out so far, with less than 1 percent of returned ballots being rejected, according to state data. Voters can request absentee ballots online until Oct. 29. In-person absentee voting is available through Oct. 30. Absentee ballots must be returned by 8 p.m. on Election Day.