Saturday November 3, 2012

PORTLAND, Maine -- The number of absentee ballots issued by the secretary of state’s office for this election is far fewer than four years ago, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to lower overall voter turnout, officials said Friday.

A total of 188,180 ballots were requested as of Thursday’s deadline and more than 150,000 were returned. The numbers are far less than in 2008, when 238,940 votes were cast via absentee ballots.

Megan Sanborn, spokeswoman for the secretary of state’s office, said Friday that state elections officials are predicting a turnout of 65 percent to 75 percent of the state’s voting population. In 2008, 70 percent of the state’s voting-age residents cast tallies.

"Even though absentees are down, people who want to vote are going to vote. I don’t think absentee ballots being down is a reflection on voter turnout being down," Sanborn said.

No more absentee ballots can be issued without a special waiver, but voters have until the close of polls on Tuesday to return previously issued ballots.

Democrats held an advantage in absentee balloting, having made 39.3 percent of the ballot requests, compared to 28.4 percent for Republicans, and 29.4 percent for unenrolled voters, according to an analysis of the figures by The Associated Press.

"Looking at absentee requests is a clear indicator to us as to enthusiasm. That translates to votes, volunteers and contributors -- everything that we need to win. It’s a great sign for us," said Ben Grant, chairman of the Maine Democratic Party.

But Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster said gay marriage supporters have been aggressive in pressing for absentee ballots, accounting for part of the Democrats’ advantage. He said people shouldn’t read too much into the absentee ballot numbers.

The number of registered Maine voters totaled 914,435 as of the June primaries, according to election officials. Unenrolled voters comprised the largest share of the total, 331,222. There were 294,404 registered Democrats, 257,529 Republicans and 31,220 Green Independents.

In Maine, none of the absentee ballots can be counted until the polls close on Election Day, but the state has taken several steps to ease the burden on clerks.