On Saturday, Oct. 17, the University of Maine’s UVote, a nonpartisan organization that promotes student voting, hosted in-person absentee voting in the New Balance Field House. Any Orono resident could participate even if they were not a student. The polls were open from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. and people could register to vote while they were there. Friendly staff helped people understand how to register to vote, what materials they needed to do so and what to do with their ballots after they were completed.
People entering the Field House were greeted by a volunteer who explained that if they needed to register to vote they must go to the registration tables. There, a UMaine UVote ambassador handed a person a registration card and explained how one should fill it out. Even if a person was registered to vote in Orono during the last election or primary they would need to re-register if they changed their name or address since the last time they voted. Additionally, out of state students can vote in the state of Maine if they attend college here.
One such student is Sara Gundermann, a third-year food science and human nutrition student. She is from Palmyra, Pennsylvania but chooses to vote in Maine while she attends UMaine simply because it is more convenient. She was thrilled that she could vote in person on a day that did not conflict with her class schedule. Voting was easy and simple for her.
“I think things went smoothly today. There were minimal lines and registering to vote was super easy,” Gundermann said. “The volunteers were really friendly and got everyone in and out in an efficient fashion.”
Proper COVID-19 protocols were taken to ensure everyone’s safety at the event. Everyone was required to wear a face covering and maintain a 6-foot distance from others. Voting booths were spaced appropriately and when registering to vote the voter and the voting ambassador were seated at opposite ends of a 6-foot card table. The envelopes which hold the ballots were sealed with tape instead of saliva to reduce the risk of viral transmission.
One aspect of voting that is unique to Maine is rank-choice voting, and this is the first ever presidential election where rank choice voting is being used in the U.S. by the state of Maine. This method of voting allows voters to place candidates in a preferential order instead of choosing just one candidate to vote for. This means more people may be willing to vote for a third party candidate. Maine’s Bureau of Corporations, Elections & Commissions further explains rank choice voting on their website, maine.gov.
“Ranked-choice voting, sometimes called ‘instant run-off voting,’ allows voters to choose their candidates in order of preference, by marking candidates as their first, second, third, and subsequent choices. The votes are tabulated in rounds, with the lowest-ranked candidates eliminated in each round until there are only two candidates left. The one who is determined to have received the majority of the votes (more than 50%) in the final round is declared the winner. It is different from our previous method of voting, in which voters choose only one candidate for each office and the winner is determined by plurality (whoever gets the most votes),” the maine.gov website explains.
Since Gundermann is from Pennsylvania, she had not encountered rank choice voting before, but she said that it relieves anxiety about casting a vote for a third-party candidate and allows people to vote for who they really believe in without worrying about splitting an election by voting third party. She enjoys having the flexibility of rank-choice voting while living in Maine.
In-person early voting provided a convenient and safe way to vote for Orono residents, but if you haven’t voted yet there are still plenty of ways to do so. UMaine’s UVote website provides information on how to cast your vote. For Orono residents, absentee ballots can be requested until Oct. 29 at 5 p.m. and people can vote in person at the Field House from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 3.