Sorry, early Cutler voters: There’s no getting your ballot back

Independent candidate for governor Eliot Cutler.  BDN file photo by Kevin Bennett.

Independent candidate for governor Eliot Cutler. BDN file photo by Kevin Bennett.

Eliot Cutler may have given his blessing for supporters to vote for someone else come Election Day, but that doesn’t mean the state of Maine will let early voters take back their ballots.

The independent candidate said at a news conference yesterday that given his long odds of winning the election — our new BDN/Ipsos poll has him trailing his opponents by 30 points — his supporters should “vote their conscience,” even if that means voting for Republican Gov. Paul LePage or Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud.

That makes things complicated for Cutler supporters who have voted early. Since Cutler’s announcement, the state has fielded calls from several such voters who want to take their ballots back, said Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, a Democrat.

Unfortunately, he said, they’re out of luck.

In Maine voters can request absentee ballots as early as 90 days before the polls open, and as long as they return their ballots by 8 p.m. on Election Day, their votes will count. The state has already issued more than 120,000 absentee ballots, Dunlap said, and as of Wednesday night, 85,000 had already been returned.

Maine law allows absentee voters to request another ballot if theirs has been “spoiled.”

In 2010, chaos ensued when Cutler surged at the 11th hour, prompting those who had voted early to try to reverse their ballots. The state’s rules on changing an absentee vote were “ambiguous,” at the time, Dunlap said, so the state did what it could to work with voters.

Dunlap said that after LePage won and Republicans swept both chambers of the Legislature, lawmakers clarified Maine’s election rules to say that “changing your mind” is not a sufficient reason to say your ballot had been spoiled. They also instituted a rule stating that a ballot could not be considered “spoiled” after it had been submitted.

If a Cutler supporter — or any other voter — has filled out an absentee ballot but not yet mailed it in, they can request a new one. But if they’ve already sealed the envelope and submitted their votes, there isn’t any option left to them.

In other words, Dunlap said: “The punch line is this: If you’ve already voted, and sent your ballot in, you’re done.”

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House. Mario left the BDN in 2015.