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Effects of COVID-19 on Elections & Civic Engagement

This page is updated on a weekly basis. If you don’t see an answer here, you can contact us at info@lwvme.org.

 

 

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. Will the November election happen as scheduled? 

The November election date is set by the constitution, and cannot be moved. There has always been a national election on schedule - even when America found itself torn apart during the Civil War. The American electoral system is the cornerstone of our democracy, and we must ensure everyone can use it to make their voices heard, even in the midst of a crisis. We must continue to ensure that elections are administered fairly and in a way that protects access to voting for every eligible American. This is a real goal we can accomplish; and on the other side of this crisis, when we look back and see that even amidst a global pandemic American democracy did not falter, we will be stronger for it.

 

2. How will the election be conducted safely during COVID?

It is imperative for state election officials to address voters’ and poll workers’ fears by emphasizing and facilitating absentee voting and voting by mail. To hold an election that ensures access to voting and also keeps people safe during this pandemic includes moving to as much vote by mail as possible.

We also need to keep polling places open for voters who need them. We can do this in ways that protect both poll workers and voters who chose to vote in person. Keeping polling places open that avoid concentrating voters, crowding, and lines will be important. Maine has purchased personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep voters and poll workers safe during in-person voting, and many towns have changed their polling place layouts to accommodate social distancing.

 

3. Who has the authority to change the election procedures?

The Legislature’s parting act was to temporarily give Governor Janet Mills more power over elections, towns, and schools. An omnibus bill passed March 17 said she can take “any reasonable administrative actions” to ensure as many voters as possible are able to participate in the July 14 primaries — including an expansion of absentee voting. The bill does not specifically address the November election; the governor has used her authority to adjust certain deadlines for the November election in an Executive Order issued August 27. Additionally, some towns have taken steps such as installing drop boxes and including paid postage which help facilitate absentee voting.

Emergency powers are subject to reconsideration and renewal after 30 days.

Local officials have the ability to delay municipal elections. They must give notice and reschedule. Section D3.

 

4. What is going on nationally?

LWVUS put out a report on March 16th officially calling on all states to expand no-excuse absentee voting and mail-in ballots for the duration of the 2020 election cycle (Maine already has these provisions).

On March 27, President Trump signed the CARES Act into law. Included is $400 million in federal grants to help states conduct elections during the COVID-19 crisis. This money is intended to increase registration opportunities and the ability to Vote-by-Mail, as well as provide funding for polling place staffing. The grants made available to states require a 20% match from each state, which some states including Maine have expressed concerns about being able to meet. 

 

5. What about the USPS? Can I trust my ballot to be delivered by mail?

The League of Women Voters of Maine is very concerned about the ongoing disruptions and undermining of the US Postal Service. Disruptions to service will affect many areas beyond election mail, including timely deliveries of essential medicines, paychecks, and small business deliveries. 

That said, ballots requested in a timely manner (check out how to request now by clicking here!) should arrive in early October, and if your ballot is mailed shortly after that should arrive well in advance of Election Day. If you are not sure whether you have time to mail your ballot, it can be dropped off at your town office or, in some towns, at an absentee ballot drop box.

 

6. Does Maine need to make changes to adjust to heavier-than-normal absentee voting by mail?

LWVME released our report on Universal Vote-by-Mail in March. Though written before the current crisis, many of our recommendations still hold true, including:

  • Maine’s election system should protect our current range of choices.
  • Voters should be able to track ballots, and election workers should notify voters if there are errors on a ballot in time for them to receive a replacement.
  • The state should consider covering return postage and provide secure drop boxes for ballots to be returned.
  • The state should consider more proactive outreach to eligible voters in the weeks before the election.

LWVME continues to meet and discuss best practices for absentee voting with Maine election officials, and continues to advocate for many of the modifications identified above to help improve absentee voting processes for November.

 

7. How do I request an absentee ballot if I don’t have the form / can’t leave my house?

Requests for absentee ballots for the November election are now being accepted. You can request a ballot on the Secretary of State’s website (click here), by mail, or by calling your town clerk. Ballots will not be mailed to voters until early October, so don’t worry if it doesn’t come right away.

Visit your Town Clerk's website or click this link to visit our Absentee How-to page.  

 

8. How do people register to vote if they’re social distancing?

Currently, it is possible to register to vote by mail or in person.

You can now download and print a voter registration card from your home. Completed voter registration cards, along with necessary documentation, may be hand delivered or mailed to your town office or city hall, or sent to the Secretary of State's Office in Augusta. Click this link for instructions on filling out the card.

*New voters who register by mail must provide a copy of certain identity documents with the completed registration form. The mail-in registrant may submit a copy of a Maine Driver’s License or other valid photo ID, a current utility bill, a bank statement, a paycheck stub or other government document that shows the voter’s current name and address.

There is a universal voter registration application online from the Election Assistance Commission. This application must be printed and mailed in; it cannot be completed online.

You can request that a voter registration form be mailed to you. Voter registration forms must be mailed to the secretary of state no later than 21 days before the November election. Voters can register in person with their town/city clerk or at the polls up to and including election day.

Mail-in registration must include a proof of residence and a copy of your ID.

 

9. Can we implement online registration?

This would almost certainly require a change to the law. Currently, someone must "appear" before the registrar to register, and there is an exception for a mailed-in, signed, form. It is possible this change to the law may fall within the expanded powers of the Governor. The primary challenge is ensuring that there is a signature on record for the voter at registration, to ensure that the signature on an absentee ballot matches. In some other states that have online registration, it is only available for people with a driver's license (and therefore a signature on file already). That might be a partial solution for Maine, though it would further marginalize people without a driver’s license. See more about online voter registration here.

 

LEAGUE PROGRAMMING:

1. Will we have a voter guide this year?

Yes, we will offer the LWVME Easy to Read Voter Guide, in print and digitally. 

Voters can access information all year round at Vote411.org/maine.

If you’d like to get involved with our voter guide, we are currently recruiting volunteers! Contact evan.tess@lwvme.org for more information.

2What about our other programs?

Our Neighbor to Neighbor canvass project is restarting with socially distanced literature drops!

We are also offering a variety of online webinars, events, and other ways to connect with each other to reach activists and voters. See our calendar for scheduled trainings and webinars

 

NEWS:

Advocacy Groups Respond to Governor Mills Executive Order on Elections, LWVME Press Release, August 27, 2020

A Smooth But Unusual Primary for Maine, LWVME Press Release, July 14, 2020

New Executive Order Clarifies Rules For Election Officials, LWVME Press Release, June 5, 2020

Requests for absentee ballots in Maine up threefold from 2016, Portland Press Herald, June 3, 2020

Maine League of Women Voters urges distribution of federal funding for election assistance, Center Square, June 1, 2020

Pandemic has Maine officials in a quandary over conducting elections, Pine Tree Watch, May 27, 2020

Voting Coalition Wants Mills To Act On Primary Election, Maine Public Radio, May 3, 2020

Maine Is Having Trouble Finding Poll Workers For The Upcoming Primary, Maine Public Radio, May 2, 2020

Maine Voting & Elections Coalition Files Petition to Governor, LWVME Press Release, May 1, 2020

Sen. King touts absentee ballots as safe, fair option for November election, Portland Press Herald, April 23, 2020.

Mills officially pushes back June elections to July 14, Bangor Daily News, April 10, 2020. 

Mills announces plan to move Maine’s June primary election to July, Maine Beacon, April 10, 2020.

Gov. Mills Postpones June Primary, LWVME Press Release, April 10, 2020.

Towns wait for direction from Mills on how or whether June 9 voting will happen, Bangor Daily News, April 7, 2020.

League of Women Voter of Maine Calls on Governor to Protect Elections, LWVME Press Release, April 6, 2020.

Our View: COVID-19 will change Maine Election Day traditions, Portland Press Herald, April 5, 2020.

 

LWVME WEBINARS:

Census Update: Challenges and Threats, September 9, 2020

USPS and Our Democracy, September 2, 2020

Maine's Elections: What You Need to Know, August 26, 2020

Primary Watch, July 8, 2020

See more webinars 

 

MORE RESOURCES:

LWVME Report: Maine's July 14th Primary

MIT Elections and COVID-19 Site 

Vote 411 Election Site 

Mailable Voter Registration Form 

Contact Information for Town Clerks

Ten Recommendations to Ensure a Healthy and Trustworthy 2020 Election

Expanding Ballot Access and Ensuring Emergency Election Preparedness