A man looks at an absentee ballot
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. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Maine Democrats are strongly outpacing Republicans in absentee voting ahead of Tuesday’s primary, suggesting the latter party will need strong day-of turnout if they hope to prevail in a special election in a purple area.

More than 31,000 Maine voters had requested absentee ballots for the June 14 election as of Thursday afternoon, a few hours before a deadline, according to data from the Maine secretary of state’s office. That could be an indicator of low voter turnout in a year without many high-profile primaries.

Nearly two-thirds of voters who had requested absentee ballots, just more than 20,000 people, were registered Democrats, the data show, while only 7,800 requests were from Republicans. The greater usage from Democratic voters comes even though more people are living in jurisdictions with competitive Republican primaries than Democratic contests.

All voters registered with a major party can vote in party primaries, but the highest profile candidates who are set to be on the ballot this year — including Gov. Janet Mills and her Republican challenger, former Gov. Paul LePage — are running uncontested.

There is a Republican primary in the 2nd Congressional District, as former Rep. Bruce Poliquin and Caratunk selectman Liz Caruso both seek to unseat Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat who is running uncontested in his party’s primary. There are also dozens of competitive legislative primaries across the state and a Democratic primary for district attorney in Cumberland County that has attracted national money.

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In recent election cycles, Democrats have been more likely to vote absentee than Republicans. During the 2020 general election, for example, about twice as many Democrats requested absentee ballots as Republicans, statewide data from the secretary of state’s office show.

But the gap for the June election is greater, especially in districts where both parties can vote in a contested election. In the old Senate District 7, where former Sen. Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth, and Rep. Nicole Grohoski, D-Ellsworth, are facing off in a special election along with Green candidate Benjamin Meikeljohn, nearly 1,500 registered Democrats have requested absentee ballots compared with 325 Republicans — a ratio of more than 4 to 1.

Absentee ballots must be returned by 8 p.m. on Election Day to be counted under Maine law. As of Thursday afternoon, 60 percent of voters who had requested absentee ballots statewide had returned them, according to the secretary of state’s office.