Thursday, October 30, 2014
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Secretary of State Matt Dunlap Clarifies Absentee Ballot Procedures for the November Election

AUGUSTA, MaineIn the wake of questions and conflicting information in the public discourse after a press conference held by a candidate for the office of Governor, the Secretary of State is letting voters know the laws governing how town clerks must handle state ballots that have been issued to absentee voters and returned by those voters to the towns.

The changes enacted by the 125th Legislature after the 2010 gubernatorial election were intended to alleviate confusion in the election process, said Dunlap. In 2010, in the days prior to the election, many voters who had submitted absentee ballots were encouraged to contact their town clerks and declare that they had spoiled their ballots and to request new ballots so that they could vote for a different candidate. It had always been the interpretation of the office of the Secretary of State that simply changing ones mind was not sufficient grounds to request a new ballot, but the law was unclear, so the effort was made to assist voters and later seek clarification from the Legislature that the intent of the law was not meant to force expenditure of additional unbudgeted resources in order to accommodate re-voting ballots that have already been submitted. In 2011, the Legislature agreed, and made changes to the law to reflect that interpretation.

Maine election law, Title 21-A Section 753-B Subsection 4, was amended in two important ways; first, that an absentee ballot cannot be declared to be spoiled once it has been returned to the clerk, and, second, that good cause for declaring a spoiled ballot does not include a voters decision to change their vote. Additionally, Maine law requires that if a candidate formally withdraws from the race, he or she must do so at least 60 days before the general election in order to trigger reprinting ballots without that candidates name. If that had occurred, then absentee voters would be issued new ballots.

Here is the text of the statute, with these elements emphasized:

4.Duplicate ballot. The clerk may issue a duplicate state absentee ballot to an applicant if the initially issued ballot has not already been marked and returned to the clerk, the applicant requests one by an acceptable method outlined in this subchapter and:

A. The applicant states good cause, including, but not limited to, loss of, spoiling of or damage to the first absentee ballot. Good cause does not include an applicant's decision to change the applicant's vote after the applicant has returned the ballot to the clerk; or [2011, c. 40, 1 (AMD).]

B. An absentee ballot for the applicant that was furnished to a designated 3rd person was not returned to the clerk's office within the time limit provided in subsection 3. If a ballot for an applicant is not returned to the clerk within that time limit, the clerk shall mail or hand deliver a ballot to that applicant and may not issue another ballot to the applicant except for good cause as provided in this subsection. This paragraph does not affect the deadline for delivery of absentee ballots under section 755. [2003, c. 447, 31 (AMD).]

The clerk may issue a 2nd state absentee ballot to a voter from whom the clerk has received a return envelope apparently containing a state absentee ballot when the State has provided the clerk with replacement ballots to reflect the removal of a candidate's name or the addition of a new candidate's name or the correction of an error or when the absentee ballot envelope has a defect in the affidavit that would cause the ballot to be rejected. When a 2nd state absentee ballot is issued to a voter under this section, the clerk must write the words "second ballot issued" on the return envelope.

The announcement by a candidate that voters can choose whoever they want only underscores the conditions of any election, said Dunlap. These procedures have been enacted by the Legislature to ensure an orderly process for voters to follow once they have made up their minds as to how they wish their vote to be cast.

The Legislature recognized that neither we nor our towns have infinite resources to reflect changes in voter intent based on changes in published pre-election polls, said Dunlap.