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Ballot boxes fill in southern Maine as early voting wraps up

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Ballot boxes fill in southern Maine as early voting wraps up

PORTLAND — Absentee ballots and early voters are keeping election clerks busy.

But as the Nov. 1 deadline for early voting looms, some towns have seen declines in early voting compared to the last general election in 2008.

The ballots remain sealed until Election Day, but in towns and cities from Bath to Scarborough, clerks said between 15 and 20 percent of eligible voters are submitting or mailing absentee ballots this year.

In Falmouth, Town Clerk Ellen Planer said 34 percent of the town's registered voters asked for absentee ballots. The ballots can be filled out at an early polling site or mailed in by Nov. 6. So far, 2,430 of more than 2,900 requested absentee ballots have been returned.

In Portland, where clerks will distribute and accept absentee ballots filled out in person until 8 p.m. on Thursday, City Clerk Katherine Jones said it is unlikely the total of more than 9,800 absentee ballot requests in 2008 would be surpassed this year.

Jones said there were more than 9,200 requests processed by Tuesday morning, with more than 6,800 ballots already returned. She estimated about 300 people per day were voting early at City Hall.

Even Monday morning, as clouds, rain and wind spreading from the tentacles of Hurricane Sandy reached Scarborough, Town Clerk Yolande Justice said foul weather was not deterring early voters.

By Monday morning, Justice said, almost 4,100 absentee ballots were cast in the town of about 14,000 registered voters. Because Town Council chambers are used for polling, councilors canceled their Oct. 17 meeting, and public hearings on proposed zoning changes and Sanitary District rate increases were shifted to local schools.

Voter registration can continue through Election Day, but the earlier deadline to request absentee ballots or vote before the scheduled election could mean the 2008 total of 6,200 absentee ballots will not be eclipsed in Scarborough, Justice said.

In South Portland, the basement of City Hall has been a popular spot. City Clerk Sue Mooney reported in-person early voting was within about 100 ballots of the 2008 total by the end of last week. Absentee ballots returned by mail were about 100 behind the 1,435 submitted in 2008.

In North Yarmouth, Town Clerk Debbie Grover's statistics showed the number of eligible voters has remained fairly constant, ranging from 3,154 in 2008 to 3,182 in 2006 and 3,192 in 2010, but the 2008 election drew a 78 percent turnout with 800 absentee ballots counted. This year, with 3,037 eligible voters in town, Grover said 507 absentee ballots were requested and 360 returned by early this week.

Requests for absentee ballots have also declined in Cumberland, but 1,223 of 1,512 requested absentee ballots have been cast in a town with 6,000 registered voters. The amount is more than the 1,199 requested in 2010, but fewer than the 2,083 requested in 2008.

Early and absentee voting in Freeport and Yarmouth is also unlikely to top 2008 totals, but has already surpassed the 2010 numbers. In Freeport, where there are an estimated 6,200 registered voters, about 1,200 absentee ballots have been requested. That tops the 1,070 requested in 2010, but is well behind the nearly 2,000 requested in 2008.

In Yarmouth, 853 early and absentee ballots have been returned of more than 1,200 requested. Town Clerk Jennifer Doten estimated there are more than 7,000 registered voters in town. At the beginning of the week, requests for absentee ballots were about 1,000 fewer than 2008, but about 100 more than 2010.

Cape Elizabeth voters often arrived in surges to vote early or request absentee ballots, poll worker Margaret Davenport said, but Town Clerk Debra Lane's statistics make it unlikely the 2008 levels of about 3,700 absentee ballots received from 6,400 registered voters will be topped. So far this year, the town has had 2,100 requests for absentee ballots from the 7,600 registered voters.

Along the Mid-Coast, requests for and returns of absentee ballots has lagged in Bath, except from overseas and military voters, according to City Clerk Mary White. In 2012,  there were 53 requests by overseas and military voters for ballots, as opposed to 12 such requests in 2010 and 18 in 2008. In total, the absentee ballot requests decreased to 868 so far (with 691 returned), a reduction from 1,064 in 2010 and 2,130 in 2008.

In Brunswick, where officials estimate there are almost 15,300 registered voters, almost 3,800 absentee ballots were requested and almost 2,900 returned as of Monday. Town Clerk Fran Smith said she does not expect to receive as many absentee ballots as in 2008, when she processed more than 4,800. In 2010, more than 3,700 absentee ballots were processed.

In Topsham, almost 1,160 absentee ballots were distributed in a town with about 6,800 registered voters. Topsham Town Clerk Ruth Lyons said almost 900 ballot had been returned by Monday.

In Harpswell, about 20 percent of registered voters, or 800 of 4,000, have requested absentee ballots this year as of Monday afternoon. Town Clerk Rosalind Knight said 821 absentee ballots were returned in 2010 and more than 1,200 were returned in 2008. There were about 4,300 registered Harpswell voters in 2008 and about 4,100 in 2010.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.