PORTLAND (AP) – The election is still six weeks away, but Mainers can cast their votes this week as absentee ballots become available.

Hoping to make the best use of absentee ballots, candidates and advocacy groups are mailing postcard-sized applications to prospective voters in what appears to be greater numbers, said Maine Deputy Secretary of State Doug Dunbar.

Municipalities will begin receiving ballots from the printer this week, Dunbar added.

Most states allow either early voting or absentee voting. Maine and about 30 other states allow people 18 or older to vote before Election Day – this year Nov. 2 – without providing any particular reason.

Political campaigns can benefit from absentee ballots, said Michael Martinez, an expert on American political and electoral behavior at the University of Florida.

“If I’m a known supporter of my party, it gives them a chance to hit me several times actually before Election Day, and if I’ve already voted, it tells them that they don’t have to hit me – they can pay attention to someone who hasn’t voted yet,” Martinez said.

Most people who vote early are unlikely to change their minds on races or issues, according to Robert Stein, professor and dean of social science at Rice University in Texas.

“It doesn’t mean they’re not attentive,” said Stein, who has studied early voting. “Just not movable.”

The Democratic and Republican presidential campaigns in Maine are making use of absentee ballots, campaign officials said.

“We have a comprehensive plan to bring absentee ballots into the fold and we plan on surpassing all records in Maine on the absentee ballots for John Kerry and John Edwards,” said spokesman Jesse Derris of Kerry’s Maine campaign.

Peter Cianchette, who chairs President Bush’s re-election effort in Maine, says absentee ballots are also part of the president’s strategy. The campaign will provide information on how to vote absentee.

“We want to reach every voter,” Cianchette said. “We want to make sure we don’t leave any vote for the president left uncast.”

The Alliance For Maine’s Future, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization created by business leaders to improve economic opportunities, is also using absentee ballots as part of its strategy to encourage people to vote, said Abby Holman, the group’s executive director.

AP-ES-09-20-04 1039EDT

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