AUGUSTA (AP) – Maine’s early voting experiment was a success, and more communities can expect to have the option in the future, elections officials say.

More than 1,000 early votes were cast in three pilot communities – Bangor, Portland and Readfield – during the week leading up to Election Day and there were no reports of significant problems, Julie Flynn, deputy secretary of state for elections, said Wednesday.

After further discussions with the municipal clerks, the secretary of state’s office will write up a report that will be submitted to the Legislature.

Then the Legislature will consider a number of options, including asking for an expanded pilot project during the June election, to further work out the kinks before next year’s presidential election in November.

“We have to report back to the Legislature and recommend whether it should be a method that’s opened up to the other towns and cities in Maine,” she said.

If early voting expanded, the secretary of state would have to approve the guidelines adopted by towns and cities, Flynn said. Participation would be voluntary.

Early voting follows a natural progression followed by other states like Maine that first allowed absentee ballots and then began offering no-excuse absentee voting, Flynn said.

The growing popularity of absentee ballots has created hardships for municipal clerks, who have to deal with thousands of applications and ballots, which are placed in envelopes, alphabetized and stored until Election Day.

During the 2004 presidential election, Portland election officials had to process 10,000 absentee ballots on Election Day in addition to taking care of all of the other issues associated with handling voting in multiple precincts, Flynn said.

“One of the concerns we have is that they’re trying to manage all of these absentee ballots while they’re trying to prepare for the election,” she said.

In Bangor, City Clerk Patti Dubois said there were so many absentee ballots that she ran out of room for them during the last presidential election. “They were pretty much stacked to the ceiling in our vault,” Dubois said.

In early voting, people cast ballots as they normally would in a voting machine, or in a ballot box, after being checked off the voter list. At the end of the day, the ballots are sealed and locked in a vault. That eliminates much of the clerical work.

Dubois hopes that the program continues. In a presidential election, she said, there are usually about 9,000 absentee ballots in Bangor. “If we can cut that in half, it’s still a huge workload but it’s more manageable,” she said.

AP-ES-11-07-07 1550EST

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