Gov. Mills signs executive order to ensure safe voting amid COVID-19

Thu, 08/27/2020 - 1:45pm

    AUGUSTA — Governor Janet Mills announced Thursday she has signed an Executive Order to protect the health and safety of Maine voters, poll workers, and election officials and to facilitate access to safe in-person and absentee voting in the November general election amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

    “The right to vote is the foundation of our democratic process, and I take seriously our responsibility to ensure that every Maine person has the opportunity to cast their ballot and to do so in a way that protects their health and safety during this ongoing pandemic,” said Governor Mills. “The steps taken in this Executive Order are prudent measures that will facilitate access to voting while protecting the health of voters, poll workers, and election officials. I will continue to work with Secretary of State Dunlap and municipal officials to safeguard the sacred right of all Maine people to vote and to keep them healthy while they do so.”

    “We’d like to thank Gov. Mills for taking these steps to ease the process of administering and participating in an election during this pandemic,” said Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap. “This order will give Maine voters additional time to participate in the democratic process while also strengthening our municipal clerks’ ability to process the unprecedented influx of absentee ballots that we expect for this election.”

    Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap announced August 17 the Online Absentee Ballot Request Service is available for the November 3 General Election. Any registered Maine voter may choose to vote absentee.

    In her Executive Order, Governor Mills, among other measures:

    Extends the deadline for voter registration applications submitted by mail or third person from October 13 to October 19. In-person voter registration may still occur up to and on election day.

    Allows municipalities to begin processing absentee ballots up to seven days before the general election, rather than four days in statute, to help election officials accommodate the expected increase in absentee voting.

    Authorizes the Secretary of State to issue guidance, in consultation with Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and local officials, to facilitate voting, including the provision and security of external drop boxes accessible only by the clerk for the safe return of absentee ballots.

    Allows municipalities more time to conduct the public process and application necessary to consolidate polling places and allows municipalities to utilize election clerks from abutting counties if none are available in their own.

    Maintains the 50-person gathering limit in each voting space within a polling location to promote appropriate physical distancing, ensures that voting booths remain six feet apart at polling places, and requires voter lines outside of polling places to be marked with signage to enforce physical distancing.

    The Governor’s Executive Order may be amended, according to a news release, in response to any emerging circumstances that threaten the integrity of the election or the health and safety of voters and election staff.