How Voter Registration and Absentee Ballot Requests Are Processed
The Town Office has been fielding many questions and concerns in recent weeks regarding Election Practices & Safety. We are also aware that there are many, many groups sending out voter registration and/or absentee ballot request forms; and in some cases do not have accurate information pre-filled. Please understand, these are not being sent by the State of Maine nor by Town of Orono employees. You only need to complete one (1) Absentee Ballot Application and, if you are a new voter or to make a change to an existing record, one (1) voter registration card. Sending multiple applications or calling the office multiple times a week to request ballots for friends/family members or check the status of your personal request only slows down the process of absentee voting for all residents. If you choose to request your ballot by phone - you must make the call! No one else may put in a verbal request via phone for you.
In spite of the confusion, the good news is that all the usual voter registration/absentee ballot request protections are still in place. Below, our staff has tried to explain “behind the scenes” steps which are taken to get residents ready for Election Day!
So, here's a basic rundown of how a voter registration card works:
You send in a voter registration card/form that you got from a random voter registration drive.
We get the card/form and verify that the required fields are completed.
If all the required fields are not completed, we mark it as an incomplete registration and try to reach you via phone or by mailing you another postcard to complete..
If all the fields are complete, we look up the voter in the Central Voter Registration System (the CVR) by name and date of birth statewide to eliminate having voters duplicated.
If the voter and the information matches, i.e. address or party affiliation, then we retain the card in the file as a duplicate application.
If the voter and some of the information has changed, i.e. address (within the same municipality) or party affiliation, then we may update the information if the signature on the new card is likely to match the signature on the original card kept in the vault.
If the voter and the address has changed from one municipality to Orono, then we have to confirm the new address. There are many ways we can do this, from looking up the Driver’s License address, to looking at car registrations completed in Orono, to looking at recreational licensing or internal utility bills. If we are not able to internally verify the address, we send out a Voter Registration Acknowledgement Notice (VRAN) which tells the voter that we need to verify the address. If the VRAN is delivered and not returned to the office within 15 days, then we consider the address verified. If the VRAN is returned to the office as undeliverable, we would mark the incomplete application rejected due to insufficient address.
If we don’t find the voter then this is a new Maine voter registration. New Maine registrations must have identification and verifiable addresses. If a Maine Driver’s License (DL) number is provided on the card then we are able to verify the information on the statewide system. If a Maine DL number is not provided, but the last four digits of a SSN is, the State’s portal will verify through the Social Security office which takes two weeks. If nothing is provided by the voter, then the application is identified as a unique application and we are able to proceed. Address verification happens the same way as 2(b)(iii).
If the card/form is actually for a municipality other than Orono, then we send it on to the correct municipality and they follow all the same steps.
Here’s how an absentee ballot request form works:
You fill out the absentee ballot request and send it in to the Town.
We get the form and look up the voter in the Central Voter Registration System (the CVR).
If the voter is not registered at all or not registered in Orono, we send out a green voter registration card and a new absentee ballot application and ask them to complete the documents in order to get them registered and honor the request for an absentee ballot.
If the voter is registered in Orono, then we process it as a viable request. This means we:
Enter the request into the CVR
Print a mailing label
Print a voter barcode which helps us track the ballot
File the paper copy of the absentee ballot request in the vault
Mail the ballot when it’s available (by statute, ballots are available 30 days in advance of the election)
You receive the ballot, vote it and return it.
We verify the signature on the back flap of the envelope matches either the request form or the voter registration card on file.
We record the method of delivery, i.e. hand-delivered, mail, dropbox, third-party.
We either accept or reject the ballot. Most common reason for rejecting a ballot is because the envelope wasn’t signed, but there are other reasons for rejecting. If the ballot was rejected, we will automatically send out another ballot AND we contact the voter to let them know why the ballot was rejected and why they are getting another ballot. The rejected ballot is marked, kept in a secure envelope in the vault, made available for inspection, and brought to the voting floor on Election Day. After Election Day, the rejected ballots are bundled and kept securely with other election materials.
We check the ballot into the CVR using the barcode. At this point, you are marked as having already voted and you would not be able to get another ballot, whether by absentee request or in-person voting (your name is marked as an AV voter on the incoming list which is how we know you have already voted absentee).
We physically staple the returned ballot envelope to the paper absentee ballot request form. Then it is alphabetically filed in the vault to await certification and batching by the Town Clerk or designee.
We will again certify that the ballot has been appropriately issued, handled and returned and then create a batch of approximately 50 ballots for processing on Election Day. Almost daily in the weeks leading up to an Election, office staff are running lists of all absentee ballots which have been issued, returned and rejected to cross check any inconsistencies and ensure those ballots are properly stored per their status within the state’s system.
Before an absentee ballot envelope is opened, we again check for signatures and make sure the name is on the batch list and is marked on the incoming list as an AV voter. Then the book is marked, the envelope is opened and the ballot is cast into a bin which is circulated before reaching the ballot box. This measure is taken to protect each ballot so the voter’s selections are not seen by any Election worker. Ballots are taken to the Election box and cast along with those voting on the floor.
This detailed explanation does not outline all other protections that are in place to ensure your ballots. As you can see, there aren’t a lot of opportunities to defraud the system. The state-wide voter central database helps significantly and there is inter-state communication about new voter registrations and or absentee ballots which may be issued around Maine’s Municipal Clerks..
Hope this helps relieve any concerns or questions you may have had!
Please let our office know if you have further questions!