By Laurie Dobson
Cranberry Isles — My five-island town here in Maine ran out of ballots at 5:30PM on Super Tuesday, March 3. We had to call the election office of the Secretary of State to try to get more. They sent a photocopy of a ballot to make extra copied ballots for people still coming to vote. Some people could not wait the extra half hour it took to do this and left.
Why did we run out? We have 26 Democrats and 22 Undeclared voters living here, so we should have been sent 48 available Democratic Ballots. Why were we only given 9? From our first call to the State officials at 6 PM until polls closed at 8 PM, our phone calls to the elections numbers (207)-624-7650 or (888)868-3763 did not get through (always busy!).
Were election workers in other towns trying to get through and also having their calls dropped or not answered?
We did have 42 ballots available for Republicans here, but only nine for Democrats, another instance of apparent misallocation or worse.
Islesford, the island next to ours, (which shares our town’s name of Cranberry Isles), had a few more registered voters; they got 12 Democratic ballots and had only one left by 5:30 PM. Their population is similar to ours.
Our town clerk, Denise McCormick, called the day before the election to say that we did not have enough ballots, and was told that she “would have enough.” She was later told that she could photocopy a ballot sent by the Secretary of State. Permission to reprint ballots had to be given in each case by the Sec. of State.
Were we representative of other towns in Maine? There were reports of the same problem in other towns. Deering High School in Portland ran out of ballots. I turns out this was a widespread problem in Maine, in towns including Camden, Freeport, Union, Scarborough, and Saco.
Maine has done caucuses since 2000. This year the state returned to running a Primary.
Ryder Kessler, the Voter Protection Director of the Maine Democratic Party, said that it was a “very active election day with 64% turn out. It did not go as smoothly as you’d prefer.”
The Maine Bureau of Corporations Elections and Commissions’ Customer Service Representative Specialist, Anne Boucher, said that this problem occurred in all 500 municipalities in Maine, from large towns like Portland to small towns like Waite.
Boucher said that their plan to deal with ballots running out was to send photocopies to each town, so that “anytime there is a problem, you could email to the drop box or stay on hold to get someone (who could send photocopies of ballots). Some people were on hold 20 minutes.”
She said people were faxing their offices faxes and they were answering with faxes but admitted that they were so busy they could not get to the dropbox requests.
“It was crazy. We worked 15 and a half hours non-stop, without a break. It wasn’t just your town, it was 500 municipalities,” she said. “Every single one was [short], just about,” she added.
“A lot (of people) were unenrolled and (towns) didn’t have enough to cover them. A lot wanted to enroll last minute on election day or even before that. That was the problem,” she said. “We sent like 60% of what we had (for expected turnout of voters) and it still wasn’t enough.
“People have had 30 days to vote and could have voted Absentee, but they chose not to. There was ample time to vote; that’s why we have it, for that reason…You don’t need a reason to vote absentee until the last three days prior to the election. People have a choice.”
Asked if State officials were blaming people for not using absentee ballots for voting early, when there was no notice that towns would have insufficient numbers of ballots, Boucher said that they did not know it would be a large election. “Nobody knew, and we had no idea. We can’t predict the future. Nobody should have been without ballots. Most towns knew to call, email or copy. That way, they have it, just in case.”
The explanation was that we could copy them if it came to that. How many other towns were assured that they could get more and how long was the wait? How many towns did not get through or get enough, and how many were turned away, or had to leave?
There is no clear way to know, without asking all the clerks to provide a guess as to the numbers of people unable to vote. The election workers would all have been extra busy trying to print off ballots; it would have been confusing at every polling location. All because there were not enough ballots sent to each locality.
Julie Flynn, Maine’s Deputy Secretary of State, makes the decision on the number allocated to towns, based on their percentage of expected turnout, which they decided would be 60%. In instances where it went beyond that, they planned to make copies.
Would it be a problem to have an overabundance of them, she was asked. She said that they had no control over the possibility that they “might send too much (ballots) — no idea, no control over that scenario.”
Deputy Secretary of State Flynn did not provide enough ballots to the towns to account for overflow and expected that it could be handled on a town-by-town basis. Since elections can come down to a few hundred votes that people are unable to cast, the inconvenience for the Secretary of State’s office to ensure an adequate amount should be worth the effort.
When asked about the decision to undersupply all of Maine’s towns, Boucher said to send an email and they would forward it to Julie Flynn. The dropbox number is firstname.lastname@example.org. She said, “Put your concern and Julie will handle it.”
The Democratic Party Voter Hotline legal intern, Buddy Norton, wanted to learn my location and whom I had talked to in Maine about this problem.
Buddy said he would report the issue in Maine thru a software program. Julie Browne, the Executive Director of the Maine Senate Democrats, provided the name of the person in Maine to contact, the “Voter Protection Director” at the Maine Democratic Party, Ryder Kessler.
Ryder said that it was “a massive problem, all across the state. We want to do better and push back so it won’t happen again. We are watchdogs for the process.”
“The Secretary of State decided that 60% was the threshold of what everyone voted in recent years and it is more than enough to cover the active voters in each municipality, which is 25-30%. It’s a subset under registered; the number of registered is higher than the number of active,” he said.
Our 9 registered (and active) voters represented 60% of those who voted in recent elections on our island of Great Cranberry, he explained.
In the last Presidential Primary that we had, 25-30% was the turnout. We thought maybe there would be more, but they “ran out everywhere. Higher than expected,” he said.
Kessler believed the issue to be that a lot of people requested absentee and when their candidate dropped out, they tore up their ballot and then came in, to the polling location to get another, therefore, two printed ballots were used up. This sounded contrived to me, but he was stretching for an explanation. After all, his boss, the Democratic Party, could have just helped to elect the wrong candidate.
We lost one young voter, because she had duties and couldn’t stick around while the Secretary of State decided to send more ballots at her convenience. How many have been thoroughly disillusioned to the process of voting because of this mess? More than we can afford, in Maine. If this was the case in Minnesota, or elsewhere, is anyone else even noticing?
Ryder said that they must be much better prepared and have an excess of ballots. They tried hard, he said, and were talking to clerks and wardens past 8pm and doing a lot of triaging. Larger towns got addressed first, with faster prioritizing.
He said responsibility for elections was split. Towns and clerks have discretion over the towns, and the Secetrary of State prints, distributes and allows the photocopying of ballots. Primaries are run by each state party, however, not by election officials, he said. That means that there is no clear blame that can be laid on anyone, since the Legislature elects the Secretary of State, who is a constitutional official and not the employee of either party.
“If you want to empower local clerks, then the Secretary of State is the one to be lobbying to and sharing your concerns with,” Kessler said. Meanwhile they will work on having more ballots and overcome the shortages. They will try to deal with issues in order to advocate on the state level.
“Our state looks like it got a black eye,” I told him, thinking about all the frustrated people who had looked forward all day to voting and had to go home without an “I Voted Today” sticker.
“My position is to fight for every eligible voter to get a ballot and push for better solutions and better outcomes,” Kessler responded, saying that he “did not witness any bad faith actors, everyone was operating in good faith for it to go as smoothly as possible.”
In 2016, Sanders won Maine with 64.17%, against Hillary Clinton with 35.49%. Could it be that Joe Biden demonstrated more Presidential quality to Maine this time than Hillary did, last time, with Bernie getting 32.9% and Biden getting 34.3%? Is that a reflection of people’s not turning out, or was a a case of there not being enough ballots in 500 municipalities which, they fully admitted, created a frantic condition with last minute copying of extra ballots in every single town in Maine? After all, they are also saying this election was bigger than last time’s, not smaller.
This is an unacceptable result for a Maine presidential primary. Ballot misallocation could easily have skewed the Presidential election results. What better way to misrepresent and deny the votes of the progressive voters, who are classically the ones coming in late, (by coming back from work to vote, after picking up kids, or planning dinner, etc.), than to run out of ballots for them? It is predictable that older, retired and often more moderate voters, who are not looking for a change candidate, would be likely to arrive to vote earlier in daylight hours in order to be able to avoid the rush and apparently, the risk of the deprivation of their vote.
To date, I have not read any reports following up on this monstrous phenomenon.
(Update: 6pm March 4, 2020: the combined island vote in Cranberry Isles was Bernie with 22 people (38.6%) over Biden 14 people (24.6%.) Warren got 11(19.3.) Bloomberg got 3(5.3%), Steyer got 6(10.5%) and Buttegieg got 1(1.8%). Mostly everyone voted, so our results could be a better gauge than the rest of the state: the statewide total, according to today’s Bangor Daily News, is Biden at 34.3% and Sanders at 32.9%.
Journalist LAURIE DOBSON, who lives on Maine’s Cranberry Isles, is a veteran Sanders supporter from 2016 and a past progressive candidate for public state and federal office. She contributed this article to ThisCantBeHappening!, the uncompromised, collectively run, six-time Project Censored Award-winning online alternative news site, which can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net