President Donald Trump has made a meal of the notion that the 2020 general election will be marred by voter fraud and that mail-in ballots are a weak point in the system. In Maine, the absentee voting system, which includes ballots delivered by mail, is essentially unchanged from past years, which suggests it’s no less reliable.

But it’s also new to many voters, who, given the volume of requests in many towns, have embraced voting absentee, by mail or otherwise. In the interest of finding out how the process works and what safeguards exist, I asked four local election officials: Waldoboro Deputy Clerk Marcus Benner, Bristol Town Clerk Rachel Bizarro, Searsmont Town Clerk Kathy Hoey and Rockland City Clerk Stuart Sylvester. Excerpts from individual interviews have been combined.

What, if anything, is different about the absentee voting process this year?

Marcus Benner: I’ve been the recreation director for almost four years. Now I’m part-time rec, part-time clerk. Kinda doing it all. We had some pretty big cuts in town. As far as I’m aware, it’s the same as we did for the primary. I don’t know about years past.

Kathy Hoey: For us, the only difference is we’re going to process them early. We’re going to do it the day before [Election Day] because we have quite a number of them.

Stuart Sylvester: The same as has been done for the last 45 years since we’ve been doing absentee voting. The only difference is the sheer number of requests. The procedures are the same. There is one difference, the ballot dropboxes. We never had those before. But other than that, the procedures are still the same.

What steps do you take when someone requests a ballot?

Stuart Sylvester: If they call, we fill out an application for the person, put in their name, address, date of birth, where they want the ballot sent. Then we enter the request into the state’s central voter registration system. When we send the ballot out, we go in and we update that request as to the date that the ballot was sent, or delivered, whether they came in and picked it up or it was mailed to them. Then when the ballot comes back, we go back into the system and record how the ballot was received, the date and the time that it was received. Then the ballot is stored in our safe until it is processed.

What does processing involve?

Stuart Sylvester: Checking them on the list to make sure the request and the ballot were all issued and delivered and returned appropriately. The ballots are opened and run through the vote scanner, but no totals are run. The totals are stored on a thumb drive, and that thumb drive is taken to the polls on Election Day. After the polls close and all other ballots are run through, the results are then printed off, and we do our totals from those tapes.

I’ve seen ballot request forms produced by organizations other than the Maine Secretary of State. Has that caused any problems?

Marcus Benner: No, not really. They all have about the same information that I would need. The only problem I’ve had is that people get sent five or six of them, and then they send in two or three of them, and we only need one. So I go to put it in the computer. It’s like, Oh, they already have it. I only need one.

Stuart Sylvester: We have literally received hundreds of duplicate requests. And we have to process those the same way that we do every other requests that we receive. So it just takes up all of our time processing duplicate requests. But that’s neither here nor there. The one thing you want to say to your readers is that if you have already requested one, you do not need to request them every time you receive one of those things.

Do you have any insight as to why people are filling out multiple applications?

Stuart Sylvester: Because they don’t know. The general public doesn’t know all the ins and outs of the processes. So they figure if they get this request, because it has the municipal clerk’s name and address on it, they figured we sent it to them because there was something wrong with their previous request. We have received four or five requests from the same person. And it’s not their fault. They don’t know. I mean, if I didn’t know the procedure and I received it, I would probably do the same thing.

Kathy Hoey: I’ve been getting lots of duplicates. I think the biggest thing is that on the line that says “mail to this address,” they often don’t put in the address because it’s the same as their home address.

So what do you do when that happens?

Kathy Hoey: I mail it to the address on record. I think that’s something the Secretary of State probably needs to make more clear. I accept it as they want it mailed to their home address.

What do you do if someone files an absentee ballot, then tries to vote again on Election Day?

Marcus Benner: When the absentee ballot comes in, it goes right to the ballot clerks, and they would check the name off in the book. So if that person came in they would already be checked off. If they’ve already had one processed, they’d be sent away.

Kathy Hoey: They’ll be told they’re not allowed to vote because their absentee ballot has already been processed. They won’t be allowed to vote again.

Stuart Sylvester: Each person can only vote once, however they choose to vote, either in person or by absentee. There’s a system to track that. And even if that person who had an absentee ballot, went to the polls voted on Election Day, then came here to City Hall and deposited their absentee ballot, when we take that ballot over to the polls to be processed, they will need to check that against the voter list to make sure that person’s name is not checked off that they’ve already voted. If their name is checked off, then the absentee ballot will be canceled and it will not be processed. So there are safeguards in place for every step of the process.

Now, if somebody requests an absentee ballot, and it was mailed to them, and they have not submitted it by Election Day, then they can go and vote in person. It’s only the ballots that we have physically received that are marked on the voter list. So, even if they requested an absentee ballot, as long as they have not submitted it by Election Day, they can still go and vote in person.

Do you anticipate people coming to the polls on Election Day to confirm that their absentee ballots were counted?

Stuart Sylvester: The Secretary of State has a website that people can go on to check the status of their absentee ballot (maine.gov/sos, and search for “ballot tracking”). They can go in and see when the request was received, whether the request was accepted, when the ballot was sent, when the ballot was received and whether it was rejected or accepted. And it’s simple; you just go to the state website. Same one that you go to to request an absentee ballot. Put in your name, your date of birth and your town, and it will bring up the status of your absentee ballot. I went in and tried it myself. It works real good.

What would cause an absentee ballot to be rejected?

Kathy Hoey: The most frequent thing is they don’t sign the envelope where they’re supposed to sign. But we’re a small town; I contacted people, and I tell them. I will reject that one and send them a second ballot. I think it’s what you need to do. It’s an oversight, and even though we put it in the instructions, you know, people get confused easily by those things.

When do you anticipate knowing the results of the November 3 election?

Marcus Benner: Once our polls close at 8:00 and when we get the final people in line and all the absentees are put through we can have the number. For the primary we had it that night. I wouldn’t see why it would be any different for this. Unless there’s just a computer failure or something. Other than that, we should be fine.

Stuart Sylvester: On Election Night. It just might be later. It all depends on how many of the absentees we receive back by that Friday prior to Election Day, on October 30. Because on the 31st and the 1st we’re going to be processing all of the absentee ballots that we have already received. So the only ones that are going to need to be processed at the polls on Election Day are the ballots that we receive Monday and Tuesday.

Rachel Bizarro: We usually have the results within the hour after the election. It’ll probably be a little later than that, only because it’s more people.

Do you feel confident in the absentee voting process for this election?

Stuart Sylvester: Yes. This is my ninth presidential election that I’ve done. I pretty much know the absentee process. The only difference is the number of requests; that’s a bit overwhelming.

Marcus Benner: Yeah, it’s been busy because we’ve had so many, but it seems to be going well.

Kathy Hoey: We’ve never had any problems, other than that the volume sometimes gets overwhelming.

Rachel Bizarro: I feel confident in the process. It’s gonna be busy.

Is there anything you would want to tell voters?

Rachel Bizarro: Be patient. Just be calm.

Are they not calm? How so?

Rachel Bizarro: Requesting a ballot three times?