ELLSWORTH — Concerns over the timely delivery of absentee ballots, also called mail-in ballots, prompted City Clerk Heidi Grindle to take action, gathering her staff to pre-sort over 1,800 city and state election ballots requested from Ellsworth voters unable or unwilling to vote in person on Nov. 3, Election Day.
The pandemic has spurred increased interest in absentee voting nationwide, but so far in Ellsworth, the number of ballots requests is on par with the number requested in the last presidential election in 2016.
The pre-sorting this year allowed the ballots to bypass the Hampden postal sorting facility, and is permitted by an agreement with Maine post offices for the election process. “They knew from the July [primaries] this was going to be a concern,” Grindle said.
Pre-sorting began at City Hall around noon on Friday, Oct. 2, just after the printers delivered the ballots. Even Interim City Manager Glenn Moshier pitched in, Grindle said. By 4:30, all the 1,800-plus ballots had been sorted and delivered to the post office for mailing.
“Literally, my staff were rock stars,” Grindle said, standing outside City Hall and wearing a face mask inscribed with the word “Breathe.”
Good advice. And the Ellsworth voters who requested ballots are likely breathing easier after receiving them on Saturday, Oct. 3, less than 24 hours after Grindle and staff dropped them at the Ellsworth Post Office, leaving plenty of time for them to be returned and counted.
“At this point, everything seems good,” Grindle said. “Now it’s up to the voters.”
Ballots may be mailed to City Hall or dropped in a drop box in the lobby of the Church Street entrance. The lobby is open 24 hours a day, with surveillance. The deadline for returning ballots, either in person or by mail is Nov. 3 at 8 p.m. Mailed ballots must arrive by that date.
Any registered voter can request an absentee ballot by calling City Hall. Grindle or a staff member will even deliver them curbside and wait until the ballot is filled out.
“They can call us from the parking lot,” she said. City Hall is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and may be reached at 667-2563.
Whichever manner completed ballots are returned, Grindle emphasized that voters must sign the side of the envelope where it is highlighted.
“If they don’t [sign], legally we can’t count their ballots,” Grindle said. She also recommended using two first-class stamps when mailing in ballots.
Ballot requests are running roughly the same as in 2016 at this time, Grindle said of the approximately 1,800 requests from the 6,354 registered voters in Ellsworth—although that number is a moving target.
“I’ve been updating spreadsheets,” she said. Until voting is completed, “You just really don’t know who exists in our community.”