6:59PM May 13, 2020
All righty. Well, I will I will go ahead and get started here. Thank you. Thank you, everyone for joining us for this week's briefing on elections in a time of Coronavirus. This week we'll be we will be discussing absentee voting for safe elections and we'll have a discussion of a recent report on universal vote by mail that we conducted as well. As well as your weekly update on on on COVID and elections here in Maine. So as you can see, we were we are going to be doing all three of those things. I will start now letting letting you know who our speakers are. Then I will give you an update on on COVID and elections and then one of our advocacy committee members now being Hamblin will be giving a discussion of absentee voting and universal vote by mail. And then finally we will let you know how you can take action and let us know about it. week's webinar. We will also be having members of our voting rights team. Also available to answer questions throughout about absentee voting by mail and any questions you may have about this upcoming. As, as a reminder, at and many of you have been to many of these presentations for so I'm sure you're familiar, but all of the but you are on mute. And the best way to ask us questions is to type them into the q&a box down at the bottom and we will hear your questions either through our panelists in the spoken section or we will also have Xbox on there. So this webinar will also be recorded and archived on our website and we will email it out the slides to all of you as well. So let's get into it with updates on Coronavirus and This current election in Maine, so So what news Do we have about about this upcoming election here and what what's happened in the last week? And the answer is not much. We have not seen any new official announcements about any. Any actions that the government will be taking that the state government will be taking any modifications to the election. The League of Women Voters of Maine and our partner groups continue to call for several changes. These include providing some online tools for for voter registration, and mailing absolutely ballots bound materials to every voter which, as a quick aside, Nebraska conducted a conducted their primary elections yesterday and they mailed absentee ballot application to all voters and saw both extremely high turnout and variable In person voting, so we think this is an encouraging sign for, for states that do this, and we continue to urge the Government of Maine to do this as well. We do believe that preserving in safe in person voting option is necessary and we also support including paid postage on all absentee valid mailings for this election.
Next slide, please.
federally, there is a bit of an update. Yesterday, the House Democrats unveiled their proposal for what they want in the next stimulus package. The total package is very large several trillion dollars. And within that there are several election related provisions. Some of the most major ones include $25 billion for the postal service, and $3.6 billion, specifically for elections, which matches closely to the $4 billion that many voting rights groups have said are necessary to conduct an election. So and additionally there are provisions for a nationwide 15 days of early voting for the election to help space out in person voting, you know reduce crowding allow for socialist thing. In Additionally, the bill also calls for absentee ballots to be mailed on postage paid to all voters in the Mert states of emergency such as the current pandemic. Additionally, it calls for national nationwide online voter registration and for nationwide same day registration. Maine has same day registration, I have online voter registration. And finally, it calls for the current election grants that the election Assistance Commission gives that for the state match component of this wave. And if you've tuned in to our recent webinars, you know that that is an issue that continues to be a challenge in making sure the money made available to the state can actually be spent. So these are Some of the very major provisions included in here. It's a question of whether you know how many of them will actually be taken up. And whether when the next stimulus bill will actually be but this is kind of the discussion happening at the national level. So that that is where we are on Coronavirus in the election for now. There is an election coming up here and a lot of it is going to be conducted by absentee ballots. So, I will turn it over to LP Hamblin to discuss some of what that's gonna look like and the absentee process for general and open mouth. Thank you.
Thanks. Well, and Hi, everyone. So yes, we're voting on July 14. This is going to be our first test of holding election during the COVID pandemic that's just about nine weeks from now. Depending on where you live, you may be voting on several different balance. They're all will be Party primaries for the state legislature and also for Congress and the Senate. And you must be enrolled in the respective party to vote on that. There are going to be votes for county offices. Also in various localities, they're going to be elections for positions like town council and a number of towns are having their school budget votes. There are also two statewide bond referenda, a $15 million bond for high speed internet and then 100 and $5 million for roads, bridges and various types of infrastructure.
Okay, let's go on to the next slide, please.
By July according to the governor's current reopening plan, we should be in stage three. And stage three continues to call for those who are vulnerable to the virus to stay at home. It also bans gatherings of more than 50 people. So, one thing you don't necessarily have to do go out to do in July is to go out to vote. If you plan ahead, you can vote absentee by mail. There will be in person voting, but it will work best if the number of people actually at the polls on Election Day is very low. That will protect election workers it will protect the public. And it will also help our clerks who right now are extremely worried about finding enough election workers. Many of our seasoned election workers are in the vulnerable category and they are not able to work this time round. So if you haven't already done so, now's a good time to request your absentee ballot may makes it very easy to do this. We have no excuse absentee voting, which means you don't need to give any reason for requesting absentee ballot, you can request it from your town clerk. There's also a very neat little form on the Secretary of State's website that you can fill in electronically just takes a couple of minutes. And then you'll get an email verification, acknowledgement that you're going to get your absentee ballot. The ballots are going to be printed and delivered to the towns in mid June and then they're going to be mailing them out. So a few weeks before the election and you'll be voting from your home if you want to do it that way. You mark your ballot, seal the envelope, and there are some advisories now that it's not the greatest idea to lick the envelope, but use something else to moisten the envelope. Sign it and don't forget to sign it because unsigned envelopes can cause the rejection of your ballot and the loss of your vote. And then if you're going to return it by mail, leave a few days for it to be returned by mail. You will be able to return it in person if you run out of time.
But it has to be received by Election Day.
Okay, let's go on to the next slide, please.
So once your ballot gets into the clerk's office, it goes through a lot of different steps. It's very labor intensive. The clerk's verify that the ballot comes from a registered voter. If it's a primary that the voter is enrolled in the right party. It matches the signature that you signed on the envelope with a signature already on file to make sure it looks like it's from the same person. Of course they checked to make sure that it is signed in the first place. And then all of this is kept track of or recorded in the central voter registration system so they know if they mailed you about that. They can mark whether it was returned, whether it was never cast, they can if a ballot comes in and they can see if the person has previously voted. So there's a lot of checks and balances in the system. They handle it for privacy taking it out of the envelope that has your information on it and sort of putting it into a bin with a bunch of other ones so that your your vote can't be determined by the election workers. And then either Election Day or some in some towns a few days beforehand. They're either counted by hand or fed into the optical scanner and tabulated by that. So let's stop now if you have questions about this process before we go into talk more about universal vote by mail.
We have a few questions here. Um, one question is what what is the deadline for seeding my ballot by my town clerk?
The deadline is the close of business on election day.
And then what if I make a mistake in my ballot is rejected? Well, anyone let me know.
There is not a law requiring them to do that. Many of them do call you you can always check if you want to. But we're hoping that we can get into a system where they need to contact you. If if something is wrong with your ballot,
when all of a sudden done, will the public see the results of the data from the checks and balances? We could
get data about the numbers of ballots cast and rejected and that kind of thing in terms of your own record. I am not completely sure about that. So The data is available so each individual voters record does show, you know, your voting but I'm not sure if we individuals can get in there.
Um, see what else.
One more question. The governor's executive order postponing the primary until July 14 included language that voters can request an absentee ballot even as late as the day of the election. Since absentee ballots are due to the polling location by 8pm on Election Day, how will that work?
That just means that
you can go you can, for example, go to the clerk on Election Day, get an absentee ballot, go out to your car and mark it and return it for example. Obviously, you wouldn't be able to mail it back. Does that answer your question? You can also vote on election day. So it's a little moot when you get to requesting an absentee ballot on election day. But let's say you've got someone who can't come to the polls. You could drive over, get the ballot. Take it back.
Mm hmm. I think also, another thing that's useful to know about that is the previous deadline was Thursday. So Additionally, the governor's executive order also opens up Friday, Friday through Monday as well. For that, right.
couple more questions in here. Um,
do we do we know how many valid people request absentee ballots don't pass don't end up casting them?
Yes, well, yes. We do have some numbers.
There were let's see in the in the last election there were something like 186,000 I'm pretty sure This is from memory. And then it breaks down to some are received but not cast. And I think that was in the hundreds, some are received late. Some are missing a signature and a number of cases. We're pretty sure the voter was able to be notified and rectify that, but we don't have numbers
Does that answer your question?
Mm hmm. I think so.
And one, there's one thing. You just got a reply saying Yes, it does. So great. And then all the way out. We also have a comment here about the governor possibly allowing ballots to be postmarked by Election Day, but not be counted if they're postmarked by election day. And I will just mention really quick, that is included in a longer list of recommendations that the league and partner groups have made, but is it hasn't been one of our major Ask but it's something we encourage them. Yes,
I think that would be great. We do have I've just reading some reports from New Jersey where they had their first all male election yesterday and they did set a postmarked by, and they're so they're still counting huge numbers of of absentee ballots. They're
great. Okay, well, I guess we can move on ahead now and get into a discussion of universal vote by mail. As I mentioned, there are you know, there's currently legislation in Congress and a lot that really seeks to expand it so it's something we do get asked a lot about and thankfully we have taken a very deep look at it. Alfie can tell us more about Okay, let's
jump to the next slide. slide please. Thanks. Okay.
So, you may have noticed this yourself, but as the The virus began to take hold and spread in early March, I started to see opinion pieces and news articles all over the place about looking at Universal vote by mail, which is a permanent election reform.
There's quite a bit of support for that here in Maine. So what I'm going to do is kind of talk a bit about what it is how it works and kind of the pros and cons of it, especially with regard to to Maine. But let's go ahead and jump to the next slide. So universal vote by mail is a system that was pioneered by Oregon and 20 years ago for Oregon became the first state to conduct quote entirely by mail elections. And since then, Washington, Colorado and others Couple of other states have joined. And in California in some other states certain elections or certain jurisdictions, jurisdictions also do universal vote by mail. So what it really means is it's automatic absentee ballot absentee ballot delivery. So it's universally mailing out ballots every registered voter before every election automatically receives an absentee ballot in the mail. How they're returned doesn't necessarily have to be by mail, and that varies from state to state, they can be mailed back. Often there are secure drop boxes where people can drop them off. In some cases, there were voting centers, or polling places staffed by election workers where they can also be returned. And of course, it's important that you have alternatives to mail because it takes a few days for your mail to be delivered. And you don't want your vote not to count because it will Too late. There was a proposal to have Maine go into universal vote by mail. Back in 2019. It did not pass, the League of Women Voters testified on it. And we testify we're neither for nor against. So we knew this was going to be a continuing issue. So we decided to look through it, look at how states have implemented it, and really go over some of the pros and cons of it so that we could take a more firm stand on what we think about it. So let's jump to the next slide, please. So whatever the top one talks about most is the sheer convenience of not having to do anything to get your ballot. In fact, you don't even have to know there's an election coming It's going to the ballot is going to come. Kind of going along with that. It's associated with high voter turnout. It sort of depends on the election and the location. But it can happen have a positive effect on voter turnout. And the states that have universal vote by mail generally have quite high voter turnout. In the past, safety was not really one of the big things talked about with universal vote by mail, but the physical ability to not have to go to a crowded location to vote. Now that we have the pandemic is something in in its favor. Also, a lot of the tried and true methods of polling price light place voter suppression, don't work so well with vote by mail, things like extremely long lines of polling places, closing polling places or moving them straight to voter ID. It's a lot harder to do that when the voter gets the ballot in the mail and gets to return it to him or herself. The verdict on cost really varies depending on On the state or jurisdiction, there's cost saving on polling places and facilities. But it costs more to print and mail ballots. A lot of states include postage paid, return postage, for the vote. So it's kind of a trade off.
Okay, let's go on to the next slide, please.
In some of the articles read, the tone was kind of why on earth are we still going to the polling places that's so obsolete, that voting by mail is a no brainer. And of course, that's an oversimplification. There are some things that might you might want to consider before jumping into this. And number one really is valid rejection nationwide. of absentee ballots, about 1% are rejected because either have no signatures Especially arriving too late for the election. The signature doesn't match or for some other reason. If you're at the election facility with a trained election official, that typically is not going to happen. So the fact that you're not dealing in person can lead to that. It can also lead leave some voters behind. Some people don't have a stable mailing address. Some people need to vote in person, they may need assistance, they may have language barriers or physical needs that need them to be able to vote in person. The question of security gets pretty complicated. Generally speaking, absentee balloting is considered a slightly less secure form of voting than professionally conducted elections held by election workers in person. Their house have been cases of abuse of absentee voting we had the notorious case In North Carolina back in 2018. This was by an election campaign itself conducting absentee ballot harvesting where they went around and got got ballots and filled them in for people. And there appeared to be from New Jersey's election yesterday I'm reading some reports have already investigations into the fact that large stacks of ballots were left aside and in residences, so we'll have to see what happens with that. And then there's just the question of tradition. Some people love going to the pool the polls and seeing the signs and the candidates and getting their I voted sticker. Also, more practically, there's the question of signature gathering. For citizens initiatives, if you need to gather thousands of signatures for your initiative, going to the polls on Election Day is the best place to do that. And the legal Women Voters, ourselves have been involved in a number of those initiatives.
And let's go on to the next slide, please.
what would our recommendation be for voting by mail for Maine, I think there's pros and cons. Probably with the way our elections are administered, it's unlikely to cause any savings and money. This is partly because we don't have centralized county run or state run elections. Elections are run by some 500 different municipalities who are already paying the staff. So we would see extra costs in printing and postage but not necessarily much saving in staff and facilities. And then the other issue really is voter choice. We're very lucky in Maine we can we have a lot of different ways we can vote on a lot of freedom.
vote no excuse absentee, we can go down to the polling place and vote in person absentee before the election. We can vote in person, we can also register on election day. If you get up on Election Day, and you're not registered, but you want to vote, you're going to be able to go to your town hall and about. So whatever we do going forward, we want to make sure that those
are preserved. So I think it's fair to say we're going to be hearing a lot about this as the new legislature comes on. next January, I am certain that they're going to be bills for this. So this is something that we're going to be following and we hope you will, too.
And let's just jump to the last slide, please.
You can read our report. It is on the league's website lwve.org and then just UVM that's universal vote by mail analysis.
And then let's jump and see if there are questions.
Thank you for that. I will, I will leave a couple of minutes
for people to type in questions. We have one here, which is has the league League of Women Voters looked at the text voting that was done in the Seattle area in Kings County. And how successful is that? No.
No, we haven't. So I can't answer yes or no, but I'm going to look at that. Thank you.
And the next question is, does the governor have the authority to direct municipalities to mail absentee ballots to all registered voters? If so, how about the funding?
if they mail absentee ballots to all voters, Ideally in this emergency, they could come from the extra money that's been given the state has some $3.2 million available that it could come out of that. It would be the governor working with the Secretary of State, basically, she could direct the Secretary of State to directly municipalities to do that.
Mm hmm. And I believe that is largely through the emergency legislation that's been passed. That's not they wouldn't the governor wouldn't be able to do that under a normal election. I don't believe
And then the follow up question is what is the likelihood of that happening? And that's, that's, that's the big question. Boy.
There's a lot of talk about that. And, of course, you know, Time's running out. So we have been hoping to get some answers on that. And I guess we're saying In the meantime, if you are able to take the step of requesting your ballot, then it will automatically be mailed to you when they're printed in June. So the answer is we don't know. We hope we find out soon. And we're we're on the case.
Mm hmm. And another follow up that is very, very in line with that. What can Mainers do to push for proactive mailing of absentee ballots to all registered voters? And I I'll answer this a bit, Sean. So we've had we had a petition we we circulated a couple weeks ago asking for our recommendations. That is, is still on our website. We encourage people to you know, contact, contact the governor contact their their local elected officials and tell them that this is this is important. Something that as I mentioned, Nebraska did this on a much shorter timeline yesterday. They helped held their election and it was very, very very effective on the teams and over 20 states are doing this for their upcoming primaries so we really do think is something main mange main should be doing but timelines are getting shorter. So, we do we do have people making it known that that this is important is is a really important step. Um next How does the Secretary of State audit the accuracy of its ballot request system I am aware of a military voter who registered requested ballot in February has not received confirmation he'll receive a ballot and he did not receive one for the Marshal.
I do not know the answer to that. If you want to get in touch with us We can look into that. But I'm not especially not familiar with the military and overseas voting. But
yeah, if you can email us or through our website
let's take a look at that because this is something I do not know about.
I don't see anything, anything. Um, oh, one other question. Sorry. Um, is there a way to request a permanent absentee ballot?
Oh, that's a great question. Um, that was that came up in a bill earlier this year. And at the current moment, no, because the law requires That you requested before every election. But there have been efforts to create what's called ongoing absentee status, which would be very similar to Universal vote by mail, but it would be opting in. So the answer is right now, no, but it has been something that has been brought up before the legislature probably will continue to.
Thank you. Um, I am looking to see if we have any other questions. I don't see any right now. Um, but we you know, we always encourage you to contact us we're happy to answer answer any questions you have about absentee voting vote by mail and, you know, election elections in this current time. So, so we will continue to take your questions and are happy to For you, individually, if we go on to the next, thank you, thank you so much for for that. If we move on to the next slide, I will tell you how how you can get involved and and, you know, wrap things up. So what can you do and I think as we said the most important thing is to request your absentee ballot that on the Secretary of State's State's website from Call, call your clerk. And it's it's just really important, we just want to in order for us to be able to preserve a safe form of in person voting, we really actually need a few people to do that as possible and absentee voting absentee is a really important step for that. Related to that, always make sure you double check your registration and your party enrollment is a as we said, many of the things on the ballot are Party races. So you need to make sure you're registered with the appropriate party to vote in those. Make sure you're all set there. Fill in your census form, make sure make sure you're counted where we say this every week. But we really do need also need as many people as possible to respond to the census, census form in the link, there's a link here to do that as well that will be clickable and the slides we send out. And make sure you check in with your family and friends to make sure that they're ready to vote and their age to be counted. Well, we, we know that not everyone spends all their time reading about all this stuff like we all do. So we really just want to make sure that everyone's aware and everyone's ready and that we have a safe census and a safe election. Next slide and more ways to get involved there. We have We have a few other things which I believe there's still six days until the deadline for Clean Elections candidates to collect all their qualifying contributions. The link I've linked in here will take you to the site where you can look up Clean Elections candidates in your voting district, and you can make a contribution to them, if you want to help them qualify for Clean Elections funding. And then we also have our vote for one, one team, which is helping to cover every race to Maine throughout 2020. And helping to inform voters about what's on their ballot and what this election is going to going to look like. So feel free to get in touch with us to get involved with that. And of course, as I said, get in touch with us. We'll be happy to answer any of your questions. We will also you know, if you want to get involved in any way we we really appreciate people's participation and all of that. So Please do. And finally, I would like to tell you about next week's next week's webinar next week, we will be presenting on corporate contributions. We are this. Within the next week, we will be releasing our report on corporate contributions, political contributions in Maine. And we, we've done a lot of research into, into where these where these contributions are, what impact they have on Maine's politics. And it's a, it's a really important issue. And we're really excited about this report. And we're really excited about the sort of action we think can lead to and, you know, exposing the role of corporate contributions in Maine. So we're, we'll be presenting on this next week for a lunch webinar and we are really excited to do that. I will I will leave it there. But I want to thank thank our panelists so much and I want to I
want to thank all of you for attending and we will We'll see them