Election worker Gregg Jones inspects a slightly damaged ballot that would not go through a voting machine during the processing of absentee ballots at City Hall, Monday, Nov. 2, 2020, in Portland, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

PORTLAND, Maine — People accustomed to staying up late to see who won the election may be out of luck in several races in Maine because a record number of absentee votes, along with ranked choice voting, could delay results.

Maine will have to wait about a week to learn the winners of several races if it comes down to extra tabulations under ranked voting.

More than 500,000 Mainers already voted via absentee ballot as of Monday afternoon, shattering the old record of more than 258,000 in 2016, and tens of thousands more will vote in person on Election Day.

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said Monday that a delay in unofficial election results is not a cause for concern.

“The focus of our office, and of municipal election clerks, is on accuracy rather than speed, so we can assure all Mainers that their vote is properly reflected in the final results,” he said.

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Ranked voting will be used for the first time in a presidential contest featuring Republican incumbent Donald Trump and Democratic former Vice President Joe Biden. Maine is one of two states that split electoral votes, and Trump hopes to win in the 2nd Congressional District.

Ranked voting will also be used in three congressional races, including the most costly political race in Maine history, the Senate contest between four-term Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Democratic state House Speaker Sara Gideon.

In the U.S. House, Democratic Reps. Chellie Pingree faces off against underdog Republican Jay Allen, and Jared Golden seeks reelection against former GOP legislator Dale Crafts.

Mainers also are deciding all 186 legislative seats. Those races are not subject to ranked choice voting because of concerns the system runs afoul of the Maine Constitution.

Under ranked choice voting, voters are allowed to rank candidates in order of preference on the ballot.

A candidate who collects a majority of first-round votes is the winner. If there’s no majority winner, then there are additional tabulations, aided by computers, in which last-place candidates are eliminated, and those voters’ second choices are reallocated to the remaining field.

By law, local election officials have two days to get their final results to Dunlap. If ranked voting comes into play, then couriers likely would begin collecting ballots by Thursday or Friday to take them to Augusta to be entered into a computer for additional tabulations.

Either way, Dunlap has 20 days to certify official results and issue the official tabulations, said his spokesperson, Kristen Muszynski.

University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy urged students and faculty to respect the process, even if that means delays, or even lawsuits. He said that anyone who chooses to protest should do so peacefully.

“We can all celebrate together this week that everyone’s vote counts — and let’s respect everyone’s right to make sure they’re all counted,” he said.

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