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Voters Seeking Absentee Ballots Overwhelm System

Campaigns Strategize To Get Out Vote Via Absentee Ballots

POSTED: 6:15 pm EDT October 20, 2009

UPDATED: 6:27 pm EDT October 20, 2009

PORTLAND, Maine — A steady request for absentee ballots has caught elections officials in some Maine towns and cities off guard in this off-year election.

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Elections officials told News 8 the requests for absentee ballots have broken all records and that their offices are insanely busy. Elections officials in Portland have already run out of ballots. Worsening the situation, the city clerk in Portland said she’s short-staffed after she lost two people to layoffs.

A steady flow of voters filled out their absentee ballots in one of three portable voting booths set up inside Portland City Hall on Monday.

“I’m going to be out of town,” said Judith Arbuckle, a Portland voter. “My sons, who are out of town because they are in school … for them, it’s important to use an absentee ballot, and for my elderly parents who can’t comfortably stand in line, it’s important to also vote ahead of time.”

City and town clerks throughout Maine are scrambling to keep up with the demand with Election Day two weeks out.

South Portland City Clerk Susan Mooney tested fax machines and other election equipment inside a janitor’s closet at the community center on Monday. Her office has also been inundated with requests for absentee ballots.

“I did run some statistics. As of today, we’ve had almost 2,000 people request absentee ballots — about 49 percent of those have been returned. Two years ago, we had issued 279,” Mooney said.

Political experts said the push to vote absentee is changing the way campaigns are run, and a whole new strategy has arisen because of it.

“It’s possible now that half the voters will have voted by Election Day,” said Dennis Bailey, a political consultant.

During a leaf-letting campaign on Saturday for Question 1, which voters will decide whether to allow same-sex marriages in Maine, supporters of the No on 1 campaign went door-to-door to ask voters if they wanted an absentee ballot sent to them. Experts said there’s a reason why campaigns want voters to vote early.

“You want to use your resources strategically to get as many as you can before then,” Bailey said. “So, on Election Day, you can still target and drive out the voters but you’ll be happy to know that almost half of your voters are already out and you know who they are.”

It’s a matter of public record to find out who has already voted and who has not. Campaigns are getting daily or weekly lists from City Halls across the state so they know who has already voted and who they can still pursue.

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