("Australian") Ballot Elections
from MMA's Town Meeting & Elections Manual, prepared by Ellerbe P. Cole, MMA Staff Attorney
1991 Edition; revised January 1994
This Maine Municipal Association publication is presented for "Classroom Use Only." Its intended use is to stimulate and aid in discussion and role playing within a classroom setting.
In Chapter II we discussed preparation of a warrant for a secret ballot election, and in Chapter III we discussed referendum questions and ordinances. In the preceding Chapter petitions were reviewed.
In the first part of this Chapter we overview the secret ballot nomination process and then describe it in detail. In the second part we discuss preparation of secret ballots.
It must be remembered that referendum ballot preparation is a part of secret ballot election preparation. As discussed in Chapter IV, both petitions by voters and orders by municipal officers for placement of referendum issues on the ballot must be filed with the clerk at least 35 days before a secret ballot election day. 30-A MRSA §2528(5) and (4), read together. At least one referendum specifically covered by another state law requires an even earlier filing. See Chapter IV, page 34.
Overview (30-A MRSA §§ 2527, 2528)
In Chapter I we discussed the two more modern forms of town meetings, which are variations on the traditional "pure" (purely open) meeting. In one of these--secret ballot voting under 30-A MRSA §2528--nomination papers for designated offices must be filed in advance of election day, and so must orders or petitions for referendum votes, and voters vote at the polls on paper ballots or by other means on the designated offices and referendum issues, and assemble in an open town meeting only to vote for other offices and on such business items as are not the subject of secret ballot voting.
In the other more modern form, one which few if any Maine towns use, nomination papers are filed in advance for certain designated offices, but the voting on all other offices and on all issues is in open town meeting. This limited provision for nomination papers arises under 30-A MRSA §2527.
Both Sections 2527 and 2528 authorize nomination by certificate of political caucus as an alternative to filing of nomination papers. Because few if any towns use this alternative it is not further discussed here.
Must be accepted. For either Section 2527 or 2528 to be in effect, a town must have voted to "accept" the section at a meeting held at least ninety (90) days before the annual town meeting at which it will become effective. Once adopted, the section the town has chosen applies until a change is made at least ninety (90) days before another annual meeting at which it is intended that the change become effective.
Operation. In both Section 2527 and Section 2528 towns, the nomination paper procedure or political caucus certificate procedure (whichever is selected) applies by law to the offices of selectman and municipal school committee member. It applies as well to any other offices (except moderator) designated in an article separate from the article by which the town accepted Section 2527 or 2528 but adopted at the same time as the acceptance.
Section 2528 governs the secret ("Australian") ballot process, including the nomination procedure for towns voting at elections by secret ballot. Section 2527 of Title 30-A provides that towns that elect to require advance nomination shall use the nomination procedures of Section 2528. Thus, all municipalities choosing to require advance nomination of candidates, whether for open town meeting or for secret ballot voting, must look to Section 2528(4) for nomination procedures.
Secret Ballot Nominations
Overview. The secret ballot nominating process is not without its formalities. After an overview to put the process in context, we discuss them.
As has been said above, there are three ways of nominating candidates for municipal office:
1) On the floor of an open town meeting, in all towns that do not use the procedures of Section 2527 or 2528, and in Section 2527 and 2528 towns for those offices which are required by law to be elected by ballot (in which case the written ballot method of voting is used) and for those offices that the voters have not designated for nomination by the advance filing of nomination papers. Open floor nominations are made by voice. The voting usually follows immediately after the closing of the nominations for a particular office.
2) By circulation and filing of nomination papers for those offices which by law must be elected by ballot, and for any other offices which the voters have designated to be elected by secret ballot, in any secret ballot town and in any town which has chosen to use the nominating procedures used in secret ballot towns, where the town has elected to use the nomination paper method of nominating instead of the political caucus certificate method. The filing deadline is the same as for political caucus certificates. 30-A MRSA §2528(4)(C).
3) For those offices required by law to be elected, and for any additional offices which the town has designated, by certificate of political caucus in any secret ballot town that has elected to nominate by the filing of nomination certificates of political caucuses, and in any town that has chosen to use the nomination procedures used by secret ballot towns and to use the certificate of political caucus method for nominations. Nominations are closed at the filing deadline, which is the 35th day before election day. 30-A MRSA §2528(4)(C); 30-A MRSA §2527(l).
In the first part of this Chapter the focus is on nomination by the latter two of these three modes, and principally on the second of these. Because few if any towns use the political caucus certificate method of nominating, little more will be said here of that method.
If Section 2527 of Title 30-A has been "accepted" by the voters, then the clerk must thereafter prepare a roster of the candidates nominated and the office for which they are nominated, attest the list, and post it at least seven days before town meeting. 30-A MRSA §2527(2). An election warrant must also be posted, of course.
If Section 2528 of Title 30-A has been accepted by a town meeting, then the names of nominees appear on a pre-printed ballot which is voted on at the polls after posting of an election warrant.
- Availability of papers; time available; filing deadline. According to 30-A MRSA §2528(4), nomination papers must be made available "during" the 40 days before the filing deadline, and the filing deadline is 35 days before election day. Because they must be "made available," it is clear that they cannot be home-made, by a candidate or anyone else. It is the clerk who prepares them.
The practical effect of Section 2528(4) is that a municipal clerk should have the papers ready at least 75 days before election day, so that they will be available to candidates beginning on the 75th day before election day. The word "during" (see above) should be taken to mean that papers should not be made available before the 75th day before election day, and no reason appears for making them available early. If for some reason blank papers are not ready by the 75th day before election day, consult with counsel. In any event, the filing deadline (the 35th day before election day) is clearly mandatory in a secret ballot town. There has to be a uniform, enforced cut-off for all potential candidates. A cut-off on the 35th day before is also necessary, as we shall see, in a secret ballot town, in order to have even a minimum time left in which to hear challenges before the preparation of absentee ballots.
On the other hand, it does not stand to reason that in the ordinary case a candidate will be able to insist that a process be invalidated solely because nomination papers became available only 39 days, for example, instead of 40 days in advance of the filing deadline, where a reasonable excuse exists (errors by a contract printer, for example), or where a candidate knows or could know the election date and delays in complaining. Thus the 40-day requirement may be held in some circumstances to be merely directory. But one should not test this if at all avoidable, and should consult counsel if the circumstance arises.
In summary then, the filing deadline must be met by the candidates, and the clerk must enforce it by refusing to act on any papers that are filed late. The filer (and candidate, if the filer is not the candidate) should be advised that it is late and will not be acted upon, and the paper should be clearly marked with the date and time of receipt and "late filing" or other marking by the clerk, over his or her signature or initials. The paper can then be retained simply as a public record--it has come into the clerk's hands in the ordinary course of business. But there is no need, and a clerk or a registrar probably should not take any step, to verify or validate the petition by examining signatures and voter registration records. The clerk has no discretion to place the name of a late-filing candidate on the ballot, but should inform the candidate, who may wish to seek a judicial determination.
- Filing deadline falling on weekend/holiday. When the date on which something must be done falls on a weekend day or on a holiday, the thing that must be done shall be done on the next business day following the weekend or holiday. 21-A MRSA §21(6). (Because this Title 21-A provision relates to "the conduct of an election," it should be considered to be incorporated into local election law by the general reference statute, 30-A MRSA §2501.) Of course when a weekend and a holiday are consecutive, a date can be pushed as much as three days. A January 1990 Maine Townsman Legal Note on this subject is reproduced in Appendix A to this Manual.
Best procedure is to take the rule into consideration in establishing the nomination paper filing deadline, and avoid a deadline that falls on a holiday or weekend. As a final note, certainly the statute does not govern election day itself: if a warrant specifies a Saturday for town meeting, the meeting itself will be held on that Saturday and not on the next following business day!
- Special procedure for shortening nominating process for selectman and school committee member. In Chapter III of this Manual, where we discussed vacancies in office, we noted that Title 30-A MRSA §2602 provides that vacancies in the offices of selectman and municipal school committee member (where a school committee does not act within thirty days to appoint a successor) can only be filled by election. Probably because of the central importance of these offices, state law -- in 30-A MRSA §2528(4)(E) --authorizes a shortening of the process for filling vacancies in them.
The authority to shorten the nominating process is available to the municipal officers in both Section 2527 and in 2528 municipalities. It also appears to be available for shortening the time for nominations by political caucus as well as by nomination papers. See 30-A MRSA §§ 2527(1) and 2528(4)(E).
- Circumstances under which available. Section 2528(4)(E) states that the shortened nominating paper process shall be available when the municipal officers determine to fill a vacancy under §2602 which must be filled by election. Remember from the discussion in Chapter III of this Manual that the regular expiration of an elected office does not create a vacancy. It is only if a vacancy arises through resignation or the other means listed in 30-A MRSA §2602(l) that this shortened process can be used. Thus it can be used in connection with the regular annual meeting only when it is being used to fill a vacancy in an office for which there would not otherwise be an election at the annual meeting. This would be the case, for example, where a selectman with more than a year remaining on her or his term resigns shortly before the annual meeting.
- Extent of shortening permitted. The municipal officers can determine to shorten the period for the availability of nomination papers to as little as 10 days before the filing deadline, and they can shorten the filing deadline itself to as little as 14 days before the election. Thus the total time from the first day of availability of nomination papers until the day before election day can be shortened to as little as 24 days. When this is done, it is probably a bit "more" mandatory that the clerk meet the date established by the municipal officers for the availability of papers than under the usual 40-day process. The filing deadline definitely should be inflexible, subject only to the rule governing weekends and holidays, discussed above; and best practice is to lay out dates so that they do not fall on weekends or holidays.
-Procedure for shortening. The municipal officers must "designate" the shortened period(s) for the availability of papers and/or the time between the filing deadline and election day for the vacancy for which the period is shortened. 30-A MRSA §2528(4)(E). They can do this on motion and vote at a properly noticed and open-to-the-public meeting of their board. If minutes are kept, they should certainly "minute" their action. They should provide the clerk notice of their designation in the form of an order adopted by them. The clerk needs this notice in order to know what papers to prepare and what time periods shall govern.
- Posting notice and notifying media of shortening. There are two other procedural requirements for shortening the period of availability of nomination papers or the time between the filing deadline and election day. First, notices of the "designation" (of the office and the particular shortening) must be posted in the same places as town meeting warrants are posted, and local representatives of the media must be notified of the designation. 30-A MRSA §2528(4)(E).
Note that the statute does not say that the notice must be posted "in the same manner" as a town meeting warrant, but only that it must be posted in the same place. This appears to mean that copies of the notice need not be formally attested by the clerk, and that no constable's return (or the return of anyone else posting them) is required. Recommended practice is, nevertheless, for the clerk to obtain some writing, even if in longhand and otherwise informal, from whoever posts, certifying that he or she has indeed posted the notice, and saying where, if only that it has been posted in all the places where town warrants are usually posted (best is to name the places, however). Similarly, the clerk would do well to make an informal note documenting the required notification of the media, and file and retain it.
It is recommended, though not required by law, that a board of municipal officers consider moving with dispatch to fill a vacancy in the office of municipal officer, at least as soon as a situation arises where the loss of a single additional member would mean the loss of an absolute majority of the entire board. This should serve to avoid the complications that might arise (e.g., inability of the municipal officers to approve treasurer's warrants) if a single, additional vacancy were to occur suddenly and unexpectedly. See the discussion of vacancies near the end of Chapter II.
Form of nomination papers; clerk's duties. Statute law does not prescribe a form for municipal election nomination papers, but two statutes indicate some of the information that must appear on them.
Before issuing nomination papers, the clerk must complete each sheet by writing in the name of the candidate, the title of the office sought, and the term of that office. 30-A MRSA §2528(4)(A). This requirement should be taken into account when designing the form of the papers.
It is also not a bad idea, although not expressly authorized or required by statute, for the clerk to include when designing the nomination papers the year (and month) of the election, and an indication whether it is an annual or a special meeting. Alternatively, and for ease of supply, a clerk could simply include blanks in which the clerk would enter that information at the time of issuance of each paper for a specific election. Either of these two devices would prevent the use in a later year of "stale" nomination papers. A clerk who dates nomination papers should refuse to accept any papers which clearly show an issuance date earlier than the date nomination papers were made available for a particular election. Such papers were probably issued for a different, earlier election, and the signatures may have been gathered at that earlier time.
On the other hand, it would be inappropriate, if a candidate had been issued four undated nomination papers and returned only three (for example) for filing, for a clerk to refuse to accept those three. A clerk who sought to refuse to accept the three that were tendered would probably be trying to avoid the retention by a candidate for future use of papers on which signatures have already been collected, and the clerk's aim is worthy; the way to serve that aim, however, is to date the papers with the date on which they are issued (an indelible ink can be used, for greater security).
As to other content of blank nomination papers, note that 30-A MRSA §2528(4)(A)(2) requires a voter who signs a nomination paper to add the voter's residence address, including, street and number, if any (i.e., not a mere post office box address, unless that is one's only address, as would be true for a homeless person). Accordingly, in designing a form, a clerk would do well to include blanks in labelled columns for signatures and for addresses. A clerk could, as well, include a column for the printed name of the voter, as an aid in verifying the registration of persons whose signatures are illegible. (This column could be labelled "Optional.")
A signature should not be discounted by the clerk, however, either for failure of the voter to supply an address or to print out his or her name. The objective is to verify the registration of the signer as a voter if this can in any way be done. (Contrast this with the explicit requirements of the counterpart law for federal, state and county elections. See 21-A MRSA §354(l), (3), and (4), and the limiting language of subsection (9) thereof. Note, too, that the very fact that Title 30-A has provided so much detail on the form and content of nomination papers argues that the Legislature did not intend 30-A MRSA §2501's general reference clause to reach into Title 21-A's provisions on nominations by petition for candidates in statewide elections.
Candidate's consent - another local form needed. Before turning to other requirements concerning nomination papers, it is important to mention one other document or form. This is the candidate's consent, which must accompany the completed nomination papers at the time they are filed in the clerk's office. It need not be filed in order to obtain nomination papers for circulation. Indeed, there would be little point to accepting a consent at that time, because the prospective candidate has not collected any signatures, and may decide not to, or may fail to collect a sufficient number to warrant filing the nomination papers.
Although no law expressly requires it, the clerk should, both for uniformity and because it is perhaps an implicit duty of office, prepare and make available consent forms for candidates.
The consent form, when signed by a candidate, constitutes the candidate's written consent to be a nominee for the indicated office. It must include the agreement of the candidate (1) to accept the nomination if nominated (i.e., presumably, if enough signatures prove to be valid and are certified by the clerk), (2) not to withdraw, and, (3) if elected at the municipal election, to "qualify" for the office to which he or she is elected. 30-A MRSA §2528(4)(C). "Qualify" means that at the time of election or within a short period thereafter, the candidate will possess the qualifications of the office sought.
To qualify for an office, one must meet the statutory qualifications for the office. These are that one must be a U.S. citizen, a state resident, and at least 18 years old (30-A MRSA §2526(3). Also, to be a municipal officer of a town, one must be a registered voter (30-A MRSA §2526(3)(A). To be a school committee member, one must be a resident of the town (see 20-A MRSA §2305(3)(B), from which the requirement of residency for election can be inferred for school board members).
Qualifying also includes taking the oath of office if elected. In short, any nominee by filing a consent is saying that if he or she wins, he or she will serve.
The relationship of the agreements contained in the consent to a couple of other questions--a candidate running for two or more incompatible offices, and whether a nominee can withdraw his or her papers after filing--are discussed below.
- Circulators of nomination papers. Title 30-A imposes no limits on who may circulate nomination papers and assigns them no particular responsibilities beyond circulating a petition and filing it with the candidate's consent. Remembering that we are talking here only about circulating papers, not about filing them, here are some short, illustrative notes:
1) A person requesting papers need not be a candidate or an agent of a candidate: he or she may wish simply to convince a person to run by showing that person that a "mandate" exists for waging a campaign. (As discussed above, the "consent" form which must be signed by the candidate need be filed only when the papers themselves are filed.)
2) A candidate can circulate several sets of papers for the same office.
3) A candidate can usually circulate papers for more than one office (this is discussed below in this section of the Manual).
4) A person can circulate papers for several candidates for several different offices.
Title 30-A does not expressly require that a circulator personally observe the signing of the papers by voters, or vouch for their signers' identity in any way.
- Number of signatures required. According to 30-A MRSA §2528(4)(A)(1), nomination papers must be signed by the following number of voters, based on the population of the town according to the most recent Federal Decennial Census of the United States:
1 ) In towns with a population of 200 or fewer, not less than 3 nor more than 10 signatures.
2) In towns with a population of 201 to 500, not less than 10 nor more than 25.
3) In towns with a population of more than 500, not less than 25 nor more than 100.
Note that there are not only lower limits (minimums) on the numbers of signatures by population, but maximums as well. Before accepting a paper for filing, a clerk should ensure that the maximum is not exceeded. If one seeks to file papers bearing too many signatures, a clerk should suggest that all excess names be stricken out on the face of the petition and advise that a failure to do so will render the nomination paper invalid.
The clerk can explain that this is because 30-A MRSA §2528(4)(D) specifically states that a nomination paper which complies with subsection (4) is valid (subject to challenge, discussed below). The fair implication is that if a paper does not comply with subsection (4) it is invalid. Therefore a paper is invalid not only if it contains too few signatures, but also if it contains too many. Neither Title 30-A nor Title 21-A appears to authorize the clerk to strike out excess names. The clerk may wish to explain that the fact that the number of signatures can be more than the minimum of the statutory range of numbers of voters (so long as it does not exceed the maximum), may be intended precisely to ensure in the ordinary case that a sufficient number will remain even if some names are invalidated for lack of registration.
If the candidate or candidate's agent declines to strike signatures, then the clerk should mark it "Invalid" and retain it as a public record.
If there were no enforceable maximums, an aggressive candidate with a large organization could sign up so many voters so quickly that, given the common (but incorrect) tendency of voters to assume that they are legally "pledged" or committed to vote for a person whose nomination papers they sign, there would be an insufficient number of voters left for any other candidate for the same office to obtain even the minimum. A similar possible consequence if there were no maximum is that if one signed up the vast majority of the voters in a town (which is not that difficult in quite a small town), and if most of them felt that they were committed to vote for the candidate and did vote for the candidate, there would be no meaningful election at all--the outcome would be practically a foregone conclusion.
-Voter signing more than one paper for the same office. Sometimes a person signs papers for different candidates for the same office. Maine law allows a voter's signature to count only on one nomination paper for each vacancy to be filled. 30-A MRSA §2528(4)(A)(2). If a voter signs a nomination paper for more than one candidate in a single-seat race, the candidate for whom the signature counts is the candidate who is the first to file a paper bearing the voter's signature.
Thus, if a voter's signature appeared on papers for three of a total of five candidates for a single seat on the board of selectmen, all signatures of that voter filed after the first one would be disregarded (not stricken, but discounted). In light of this, it is clearly important to record the date and time of receipt of each set of papers filed.
Notice that the statute says, in effect, one signature of a voter for each seat to be filled. Thus, if, in a given town, the custom is that candidates for selectmen run for the offices of First, Second, and Third Selectman separately, then a voter could sign a paper for one (but not more than one) of the candidates for each of the three seats.
If There Are No Filers
What if no one files papers for a particular vacancy? In a secret ballot town the clerk should ensure that the office is still shown on the ballot, and that there is one blank line on the ballot for that office, for each vacancy in that office. For example, for an elected board of appeals with two vacancies and no candidates, that part of the ballot would show "Board of Appeals--Vote for Not More than Two" and that caption would be followed by two blank lines (with boxes to the left of them) for the names of write-in candidates. At the actual election, because only a plurality (less than a majority--only one more vote than any other candidate receives) is required in a secret ballot election, it is possible that, if there were only one ballot marked with a write-in candidate's name, that candidate would win a seat. (Of course, if he or she then declined to serve or failed to qualify, a vacancy would exist once again.)
Candidate Need not be Qualified for Office
One need not be qualified for an office to run for it.
One cannot be sworn to an office unless one has qualified for it. However, one can be elected to an office for which one has not yet qualified. It follows from this that one can campaign for an office without being qualified for it, and that one can therefore take out nomination papers without having first qualified for the office.
As has been mentioned above, the candidate's consent form constitutes the candidate's agreement that he or she will not withdraw from the race and will qualify for office if elected. The consent must accompany the completed nomination papers when they are filed with the clerk. It need not be, and should not be, filed before that time. Thus, a clerk should not refuse to issue papers to one who at the time of the request for papers is known or believed not to be qualified. A clerk could, however, mention to the candidate any respect in which the candidate is believed not to be qualified and remind the candidate of the requirement of the filing of the consent and of the representations made in it. It follows from this that a clerk should not decline to accept a filing of papers from someone who is believed by the clerk not to be qualified at the time of filing, but should again remind the candidate of the agreement in the consent form. In short, explain the rules but don't refuse.
Running for Multiple Offices
Taking out papers for more than one office or seat is perhaps the extreme opposite of no filers. We should now discuss several complications, or variations on this theme.
Taking out papers for two different offices on the same board or other body. The first is the situation of a person who wishes to take out papers for two different offices (say, for a three-year seat on a board and for a two-year seat on the same board, or for a chairmanship of a board where the voters elect the chair and for a regular seat on the same.
Clearly, the person cannot occupy two seats on the same board. On request, however, the two sets of papers should be issued. After all, the person might fail to obtain a sufficient number of signatures for either or both of the nominating petitions; moreover, there is always the possibility that the person will ultimately file only one completed set of papers. But what if the person tries to file both sets? At that point the clerk should remind the person of the agreement made in the consent which must also be filed. A clerk could explain that this could result in a real inconvenience for the voters, if a second election had to be held to fill the office. This can be explained to the person who asks for, or who seeks to file papers for, two (or more) offices. If someone persists in wishing to file two sets of papers, a clerk should accept both. Let an opposing candidate decide whether to initiate legal action.
Incompatible offices. A second variation is where one is running for two (or more) offices which are not on the same board or body, but which are incompatible offices. (The doctrine of incompatibility of office is discussed below in this chapter.)
This should be treated much the same as described for the situation where one takes out papers for two separately-voted-on seats on the same board. The incompatibility should be pointed out to the candidate at the time of taking out papers and again at the time of filing. The effect of incompatibility should be explained (that is, that as soon as the oath to the second office is taken the candidate is deemed to have resigned from the first office to which he or she is sworn). This, again, would require another election if the office is municipal officer (or, in some cases, municipal school committee member). Perhaps with this explanation a prospective candidate will take out papers for only one office, or for two offices which are not on the same board and which are not incompatible.
Variant on incompatibility of office. Multi-year term incumbent takes out papers for different, annual office. The third variation is where an incumbent in an office with a multi-year term which does not expire at the upcoming election takes out papers for a second office which is incompatible with the first (e.g., a multi-year selectman taking out papers for road commissioner).
Nothing bars taking out or filing papers, or running. The individual will either resign from the first office held promptly upon election and before being sworn to the new office, or will simply take the oath to the second office, knowing that such action has the effect of a resignation from the first. It is true that a clerk could choose to try to prompt one to proceed to resign from the first forthwith (the resignation to become effective upon election of a successor) in order to permit the office to be added to those to be elected at the upcoming election. This could be done, for example, by shortening the period for availability of nomination papers for filling the office, and by shortening the deadline for filing papers (if the office is one for which shortening is permissible, see 30-A MRSA 2528(4)(E), discussed above in this Chapter).
However, one will not always surrender a current office in order to run for another, and the unfortunate but permissible result is that the municipal officers may have to declare a vacancy in the first office promptly after the election, and call another election to fill it (unless the first office is an appointive one, or, if it is an elected one, is one in which a vacancy can be filled, under 30-A MRSA §2602(2), by appointment.)
The issuance of papers and acceptance of them (subject to validation, of course) is an area in which, ultimately, a clerk has practically no discretion. However, a clerk, in order to clarify matters at the front end to people requesting nomination papers, may wish to exercise some discretion by outlining appropriate issues for a candidate in unusual circumstances.
Challenge to Nomination; Inspection of Papers
As was stated above, nomination papers and political caucus certificates must be filed with the clerk not later than the 35th day before election day.
Anyone can challenge; procedure. Challenges to any of these can be made by anyone. Challenges must be (1) made in writing, (2) addressed to the municipal officers, and (3) received by the 33rd day before election day. 30-A MRSA §2528(4)(D). (Because challengers have only two days after the filing deadline to object to papers, most savvy candidates will file their papers as close to the deadline as possible.) All challenges should be referred to the municipal officers if they are not filed directly with them, but they should not entertain a challenge if it does not meet the three requirements noted above (although if it is in writing and tendered for filing it should be accepted for purposes of filing only). It is appropriate, however, though not required, for a clerk to inform anyone inquiring, and anyone who appears to the clerk to be attempting to make a challenge, of these requirements.
Notice. If a challenge is made, the clerk must immediately notify the candidate "affected" by it. The municipal officers should be notified promptly of any challenge that is filed with the clerk directly. The municipal officers should then determine whether to sustain or overrule the objection, and their decision is final. 30-A MRSA §2528(D). Their meeting to rule on the objection is a public proceeding, and advance notice must be given of it, in accordance with Maine's Right to Know Law (1 MRSA §§401-410). Beyond that, no form or procedure is provided by statute for the meeting. Obviously, the municipal officers should allow the challenger to present a case either personally or through an agent or attorney, and they should permit the challenged person to present any defenses or evidence in avoidance of the challenge; and they should make written findings of fact and state their conclusions and their rationale or reasoning.
Public inspection. When nomination papers and certificates of political caucuses have been filed, the clerk must make them available for public inspection "under proper protective regulations." 30-A MRSA §2528(4)(B). It is advisable for the clerk to draw up some regulations (which can be submitted to the municipal officers for their concurrence or approval if desired--for example, when the clerk is appointed rather than elected). Such regulations should state that the clerk, a deputy, or assistant must be present at all times, and that no writing instrument can be at hand to the person inspecting the nomination papers or political caucus certificate while that person is handling them--the inspector can have pad and pencil available at a separate table for note-taking away from the papers.
Records retention. The clerk is required to keep the nomination papers and political caucus certificates in the office where they were filed for six months. 30-A MRSA §2528(4)(C). The statute does not say when the clock begins to run--date of filing, filing deadline, or election day. The conservative course is to start the clock on the day following election day.
Incompatibility of Office
The author of a major treatise on municipal law in America has provided a good description of the doctrine of incompatibility of office:
"The common-law rule is that the acceptance by a public officer of another office which is incompatible with the first thereby vacates the first office; that is, the mere acceptance of the second incompatible office per se terminates the first office as effectively as a resignation. Public policy demands that an officeholder discharge his duties with undivided loyalty. The doctrine of incompatibility is intended to assure performance of that quality. Its applicability does not turn upon the integrity of the person concerned or his individual capacity to achieve impartiality, for inquiries of that kind would be too subtle to be rewarding. The doctrine applies inexorably if the offices come within it, no matter how worthy the officer's purpose or extraordinary his talent." McQuillin, Municipal Corporations § 12.67 (citations omitted).
The doctrine of incompatibility of office is originally a creature of the common law. Legislatures (including Maine's) can enlarge upon the common law, or restrict it, by enacting a law that says that it will constitute an incompatibility of office for a person in a specified office to hold another specified office at the same time, or by enacting a law that declares that it will not constitute an incompatibility of office for a person holding a certain kind of office to hold the second specified kind as well.
Incompatibility of office is discussed, and examples are given, in an August 1987 Maine Townsman Legal Note, reproduced in Appendix A to this Manual.
Clerks and municipal officers can be helpful to interested candidates who already hold an office, or though not in office wish to run for two or more offices, by pointing out incompatibilities to them when they seek to take out nomination papers. If the question cannot be answered locally, inquire of MMA's Legal Services Division. Incompatibility of office questions are among the more frequent inquiries the Division receives. Obviously, it is better to detect a possible incompatibility before a candidate unknowingly leaps into it.
The doctrine of incompatibility applies, of course, not only to secret ballot elections but to open town meetings as well.
Withdrawal of Candidacy
Occasionally, a candidate who has taken out nomination papers will wish to withdraw from a race. This is easy enough before filing papers--one just omits to file them. What if a candidate wishes to withdraw after papers have been filed? Regardless of whether one seeks to withdraw after filing papers but before the 35th day-pre-election filing deadline or after that deadline, Maine statute law does not expressly cover the point. (It does seem clear enough, however, that filed nomination papers should not be returned to a candidate who asks to have them back: they are a public record after filing.)
MMA's Legal Staff's view is that clerks should inform candidates seeking to withdraw that they must submit a statement, acknowledged before a notary public (other than the clerk where the clerk is a notary), that they request that their candidacy be withdrawn. No reason need be stated, although for political reasons a candidate may wish to state one. The request should be filed with the clerk. The clerk should notify the municipal officers of the receipt of it.
The town has the choice whether or not to accept the withdrawal request After all, the candidate, on filing papers, signed a certificate of consent, agreeing that he or she would not withdraw. There are no hard and fast rules here (again, because no statute governs the issue of withdrawal). If there is more than one candidate for an office, it may seem most appropriate to effect the withdrawal. If the candidate is the only candidate for an office and the 35-day filing deadline has passed, it may be appropriate to decline the request, and hope that the candidate, if elected, will have a change of mind or heart. If not, the Selectmen would declare that a vacancy exists by failure to qualify for the office. They would then either appoint to fill the office (if the office is one that can be filled by appointment, see 30-A MRSA §2602(2)) or order another election.
But there are other considerations. One is expense to the town where a nomination is for a secret/Australian ballot election. If the ballots, either regular or absentee, have been printed, the town need not undertake to re-print them in order to accommodate the candidate. A candidate may wish to facilitate the reprinting of the ballots by making a contribution to the town to cover the cost of repairing the situation (which can be held by the clerk or Treasurer, subject to acceptance by the municipal officers at their next meeting, see 30-A MRSA §5652, which authorizes acceptance by the municipal officers of donations of money if there has been a specific appropriation already made for printing or for election expenses), but such a contribution cannot be required as a condition of acceptance of the withdrawal.
Finally, because absentee ballots are by law supposed to be available at least thirty days before election day, it may simply be too late to have those ballots reprinted. Certainly, if an absentee ballot has been returned to the clerk, it is too late to permit withdrawal.
A gray area is where one or more absentee ballots have been issued but none has been returned. It is recommended that one stay out of this area by not allowing withdrawal and revision of the ballot if a single absentee ballot has been issued.
Preparation of Secret Ballots
The municipal clerk is responsible for preparation of the ballots, both absentee and regular; and of specimen ballots and voting instruction cards. Statute law (30-A MRSA §2528(6)) controls many aspects of these documents.
The Secret Ballot
Arrangement of the ballot. Offices to be filled by election are the first items on the ballot. They are followed by referendum questions ("questions required by law to be submitted to a vote"), although referendum questions can be printed on a completely separate ballot. If a separate ballot is used, it must be a different color than the ballot listing the candidates. 30-A MRSA §2528(6)(C). Technically, Section 2528(6)(C) requires, for a referendum ballot, the use of a color different from that used for the candidates' ballot when the referendum question is "required by law to be submitted to a vote." This may mean only that a separate color must be used when the issue is a local liquor referendum or one of the other statutory referendum questions identified near the beginning of Chapter IV of this Manual, or that the requirement does not apply when the municipal officers order an issue of their own initiative that is not a statutory referendum issue to a secret ballot referendum vote pursuant to 30-A MRSA §2528(5). It will be best if, rather than relying on a narrow reading of Section 2528(6)(C), one always uses a different color for a separate referendum ballot. (Use the narrow reading of the statute as a defense if you ever forget to do this and someone alleges that the ballots are therefore defective.)
After the header identifying an office, the properly nominated candidates for that office are listed in alphabetical order by last name. The ballot may contain no other names. 30-A MRSA §2528(6)(A).
Preprinted names of candidates. An election ballot may contain no names other than those of properly nominated candidates. 30-A MRSA §2528(6)(A). Only a candidate's legal name can be preprinted on the ballot.
Should a candidate's last name be printed first, or last? What determines the order of names on a local ballot? Candidates should be listed "in alphabetical order by last name," 30-A MRSA §2528(6)(A). That means that, for each office, the candidate nearest the front of the alphabet should be listed first, and it appears to mean that candidates should be listed by last name first.
Should initials only be used for first and middle names, or should all names be printed out in full? Should one's title (e.g., "Dr.,""Rev.") be used? Title 30-A does not answer these. We need not decide whether one may or must look at Title 21-A, but instead can simply recommend that the pertinent procedures of Title 21-A be used, and used consistently.
Section 602 of Title 21-A answers these questions. First, the names of all nominees for office should be placed as far as possible in a vertical column. 21-A MRSA §602(2) (A). Second, the ballot should contain the name of each candidate without any title, with the last name of each appearing first, under the proper office designation. 21-A MRSA §602(l). Third, the last name should be printed in block capital letters, followed by the first name and middle initial or followed by the first name or first initial and the middle name. 21-A MRSA §602(2)(H). Thus, a clerk can take names as they appear on nomination papers, and, if they appear inconsistently where more than one paper has been filed, the candidate can be consulted and given the options in the matter. No reason will ordinarily appear for declining to honor the choice of the candidate (unless it is a nickname, see discussion below in this Section). The clerk, however, does have the final say, which should be exercised where the choice departs from what the clerk knows is historic usage by the individual and there is some appearance of an intent to deceive or confuse.
- Municipality of residence of nominee. Section 602 also requires that the municipality of residence of each nominee appear also following each listed name. 21-A MRSA §602(l). Although this is perhaps done in few towns, it would appear to do no harm to include it. Again, probably a town would succeed in arguing that these provisions are not mandatory, because the Legislature, in enacting 30-A MRSA §2528(6) duplicated several of the provisions of Section 602, and therefore arguably selectively omitted the above details concerning names. Still, Section 602 is useful as a consistent guide, and adherence to it will probably avoid objection based on some preference by a nominee for a different rule.
- Nicknames impermissible on printed ballot. Nicknames are not permissible as candidates' names on preprinted secret ballots, although they can be written in on secret ballots and they can be used on written ballots. Contrary to what some may think or recall, James Earl ("Jimmy") Carter did not prove in 1976 that nicknames could be used on a presidential ballot--he convinced a court that "Jimmy" was his legal name. In his case, the court ruled that the question of legality of a name is determined by the state of one's legal residence, and that Georgia, Mr. Carter's state of residence, is a state in which one's nickname can attain the status of a legal name through mere use. The court then determined that the name "Jimmy Carter" had attained the status of a legal name under the law of Georgia, and that was sufficient to require placement of that name on a ballot in Maine. However, the law of the State of Maine is that its residents' nicknames cannot become legal names through mere use. (An application and court order are required in order to change one's name.) Because all candidates for municipal office must be state residents (30-A MRSA §2526(3)), no nicknames can be used on ballots in municipal elections. And see 30-A MRSA §2528(6)(A).
Space for write-ins. At the end of the list of candidates for each office, there must appear on the ballot as many blank spaces as there are vacancies to fill, in order to permit a voter to reject all nominated candidates and choose to fill all expiring or newly-created offices that are filled by secret ballot election with write-in candidates.
In 1987, the Legislature amended 30-A MRSA §2528(4)(B) and (6)(B) to provide that a voter who is voting by write-in must also write in the municipality of residence of the person for whom the voter desires to vote. This requirement was amended in 1991 (by PL 1991, c. 83) so that the name of the municipality must also be written in only if residence in the municipality is not a requirement for one to hold the office. There are only two such offices under general law--selectman and school committee member (others could be added by local law). The original 1987 change to require writing-in of the municipality of residence was apparently done to conform municipal law to state elections. The 1991 change was intended to address the lack of a compelling rationale for requiring a voter to write in the name of the municipality of residence of a candidate for an office for which residence in the municipality in which the election is being held is an absolute requirement to qualify for the office.
Thus, for all offices other than selectman and school committee member (unless local law provides otherwise), it may help the voters if each write-in line appears as follows:
|Write in the name of any person
you prefer to the listed candidates
|Write in the name of the municipality
of residence of that person
Below the write-in lines for selectman and school committee member would appear either "Write in the name of any person you prefer to the listed candidates" or no instruction. There may be better ways to handle this. One would think that some clear guidance should be provided to the voters, in order to avoid questions concerning the validity of numerous write-in ballots. Suggestions to MMA are welcome. For a discussion of counting write-in ballots that omit the municipality of residence where it is required, see Chapter X of this Manual.
If there are no nominees. If there are no nominees for an office, the ballot should still contain the title of the office and the blank line(s) for write-ins, because an office for which no candidates have declared may still be filled by write-in votes. (A write-in is both a nomination and a vote, in a sense.)
Use of stickers. "Stickers" are preprinted labels resembling a write-in line, with a particular write-in candidate's name pre-printed on the line. Stickers typically have a gummed back so that by moistening the back it can be applied directly to a paper ballot. The intent of a candidate who prepares stickers is to make it easier for voters to vote for him or her. All the voter has to do is find the part of the ballot that pertains to the office sought and apply the sticker, and then check the appropriate write-in line box on the ballot. By law, stickers may not be used to vote for a write-in candidate in any municipal election, except for a primary election. 30-A MRSA §2528(6)(B). The counting of votes by sticker is discussed on page 108 of this Manual. See also the discussion below regarding appropriate explanations on the ballot and on the instruction cards which the clerk must prepare.
Ballot design details, dimensions. The following five requirements apply.
A square must be printed at the left of the name of each candidate. 30-A MRSA §2528(6)(D). This requirement applies as well to each line on the ballot that is provided for writing in a candidate's name (that is, for each write-in line).
For each referendum question, two squares must be printed at the left of the question, with "yes" above one and "no" above the other. 30-A MRSA §2528(6)(D).
Words of explanation, such as "Vote for one" (appropriate when only one office is to be filled), "Vote for not more than three" (where, e.g., all selectmen serve terms of only one year and the board of selectmen consists of three), and "Vote 'yes' or 'no'" may be (and commonly are) printed right on the ballot. 30-A MRSA §2528(6)(E). It is recommended also that there appear on the ballot and/or on the instruction cards (1) a statement of the requirement that voters write in, for any write-in candidate for an office for which residence in the municipality is not required, the name of the municipality of residence of the candidate as well as the name of the candidate, (2) an instruction that voters should also put an "X" or a checkmark in the box to the left of the write-in's name (as well as in the box to the left of any listed candidate for whom they wish to vote), and that the ballot can be invalidated without the "X" or checkmark, and (3) a reminder (at least in all elections other than municipal primary elections) that the use of "stickers" is barred in voting on a write-in basis except in a municipal primary election.
Although the statute authorizes "words of explanation," we believe this means only guidance to the voter in the proper marking of the ballot, not information concerning a referendum issue. Thus, this statute is not authority for the selectmen to explain a particular issue, or to state their recommendation for action on it. Section 2528(5)(B) requires, both in the warrant and on the ballot, recommendations of the municipal officers (and, in some circumstances, of certain others) for secret ballot referendum votes involving appropriations of money. See the discussion "Budget/Other Financial Recommendations" in Chapter III of this Manual, which includes discussion also of a more recent law requiring, for any general obligation borrowing or bond issuance, that the ballot be accompanied by a financial disclosure statement prepared by the Treasurer. MMA recommends that this statement appear both on the warrant and on the ballot. The general rule, however, is that if there is no specific authorization or requirement for information on an issue to accompany that issue on a secret ballot, then none should appear on the ballot, but only the question to be voted on and any needed or appropriate instructions to guide the voter in marking the ballot. (Typically, the only appropriate one on a secret ballot referendum is "Vote yes or no.")
- Before distribution to voters the ballot must be folded in marked creases to measure, when folded, in any dimension from 4 1/2 to 5 inches wide and in any dimension from 6 to 13 1/2 inches long. 30-A MRSA §2528(6)(F).
- On the back of the ballot, and positioned so that it will be on the outside when the ballot is folded, three things must be printed: (1) the words "Official ballot for the Town of [insert the name of your town]," (2) the date of the election, and (3) a facsimile of the clerk's signature.
Reproduction of ballots. Ballots may be printed, photocopied, or "otherwise mechanically reproduced." 30-A MRSA §2528(6)(G). A mimeograph machine would do.
Enlarged ballots. For a discussion of a law, new in 1993, regarding enlarged ballots for use by visually impaired voters, see Chapter X of this Manual.
Quantity of ballots. Former Title 30, Section 2061(5)(G) at one time provided that at least 55 ballots for each 50 registered voters should be prepared, but that was changed in 1981, and the counterpart provision in Title 30-A states only that "[a] sufficient number shall be prepared. 30-A MRSA §2528(6)(G). In elections in which the Secretary of State furnishes the ballots at least 75 must be provided for every fifty votes cast at a voting place in the last election of the same type. 21-A MRSA §606(l). This generous figure undoubtedly stems from the difficulty the Secretary of State would have in getting additional ballots out to towns all over the state. Clearly, the state election provision does not apply under the general reference statute, because Title 30-A is not silent on the subject--it says that a sufficient number is required, but simply doesn't specify that number. A less generous ratio than the state election one or the old municipal one--even less than one for each registered voter--will usually serve in municipal elections, although it will not hurt for the clerk to have photocopier access in case a shortage of ballots develops on election day. (This is discussed in the subsection immediately below.)
The clerk must make a record of the number of ballots actually prepared, and they must be packaged in convenient blocks so that they can be removed separately. 30-A MRSA §2528(6)(G).
Error/omission -emergency - shortage of ballots. Title 30-A is silent on what to do if ballots come back from the printer with an error, or if a shortage of ballots occurs on election day, or in the event of other emergency. Accordingly, the general reference statute comes into play, and sends the inquiring mind to Title 21-A. Section 604 of that Title sets out emergency ballot procedures. The statute contemplates four kinds of emergencies:
The ballots run short on election day.
They're not delivered in time from the printers.
They are missing, defaced, or destroyed.
"Replacement of a vacancy" or correction of an error requires that the ballots be amended.
There are two ways to proceed--to apply "corrective stickers" to the ballots (which may be suitable for remedying small errors or omissions), and to re-print or re-produce the ballots (which is suitable to correct a shortage, to offset a failure of delivery, to replace missing, defaced, or destroyed ballots, and to correct a major error or omission that is not remediable by corrective stickers). Obviously, such an emergency would normally arise long after some, perhaps many, absentee ballots had been returned from voters to the clerk. The consequences to an election tally of having used ballots of one form for absentees and of another for voting at the polls may well be a matter for consultation with counsel. A first order of business should be trying to discern whether, if the correction had been made on all of the absentee ballots, and if all of the absentee ballots had been cast for the losing side of an issue or for any losing candidate, the outcome would have been any different.
Number; color. The clerk must ensure that at least ten (there is no maximum number stated in the statute) specimen ballots are prepared, and that they are on paper of a color distinctive from the ballots.
The facsimile signature of the clerk (the statute calls it the "endorsement" of the clerk) must be omitted from the specimen ballots, but in all other respects (except color, see above) they should be substantially in the form of the real ballots.
Section 2528 does not expressly require that specimen ballots be plainly labelled "Specimen Ballot." Presumably there is no need, because of the distinctive color and the absence of the facsimile signature of the clerk. Nonetheless, it is a recommended additional ballot security precaution.
Note that the requirement of a distinctive color means that, in a secret ballot town where the clerk exercises the statutory option of printing referendum issues on a separate ballot from the one listing the candidates, there will be ballots (specimen, referendum, and candidates) of three different colors. See 30-A MRSA §2528(6)(C).
Enlarged specimen ballots. For a discussion of a law, new in 1993, regarding enlarged specimen ballots for visually impaired voters, see Chapter X of this Manual.
Packaging of Ballots and Specimen Ballots
Ballots must be packaged in "convenient blocks so that they may be removed separately." The point of this provision is undoubtedly to prevent having a large quantity of blank ballots lying around in the open. In small towns with low turnouts, "convenient" might mean blocks of as few as ten.
The ballots and the specimen ballots must be packed in sealed packages with marks on the outside specifying the number of each enclosed.
The clerk must also prepare instruction cards containing the substance of Title 21-A sections 671 to 674, 681, 682, 692, and 693. These discuss voting procedures, permissible voter assistance in reading or marking the ballot, challenges, election crimes and the penalties for commission of them, restrictions on movement and time within the guardrail and the voting place, and on political activity, the marking of the ballot, and what can be done if a voter spoils his or her ballot. For the full text of the referenced sections, see Title 21-A. Within reason and good practice, nothing appears to bar clerks from putting other information on the instruction cards. An example might be a statement of the still relatively new law (discussed above) barring the use of "stickers" for "writing-in" a vote in municipal elections, except in municipal primaries.
Voting Machines and Electronic Voting Systems
When voting machines are used in a secret ballot election, the clerk must furnish ballot labels that comply, as nearly as practicable, with the provisions of Title 30-A that apply to ballots. 30-A MRSA §2528(6)(K). For laws on voting machines and electronic voting systems, see 21-A MRSA §§808-860.
Combined State and Municipal Ballots
Section §604-A of Title 21-A, which is not referred to expressly by Title 30-A, is, for reasons given below, probably of only theoretical interest. It is available whenever a municipal election coincides with a statewide candidate or referendum election. Under Section 604-A, the Secretary of State, whenever he or she finds that it is in the interest of the election process and that it will not contribute to voter confusion or unreasonable administrative difficulties, may make suitable arrangements for the printing of candidate, referendum, and municipal election ballots on a single paper ballot, or, for use in conjunction with electronic voting systems, on a single ballot card. In fact this statute has been little used in recent years, because administrative difficulties appear to have occurred, such as the town's ballot format not being timely received by the Secretary of State, or a town's discovering an error in its input only after the combined ballots had been printed.
Posting of Specimen Ballot or List and Instruction Card
At least four days before election day, the clerk must have a specimen ballot posted in one or more conspicuous places in the town (these should be at least all of the places in which the warrant was posted). In lieu of posting a specimen ballot, the clerk may have a list posted, provided that it is substantially in the form of a ballot, containing the name and office designation of each candidate. 30-A §2528(7).
If a municipality uses more then one polling place, the clerk should take pains to ensure that a specimen or list is posted fairly within the geographic area served by each polling place. If the alternative posting of a list is done, this does not excuse the separate requirement that at least ten specimen ballots be prepared. Specimen ballots may also be made available to newspapers for publication in advance of the election.
On election day, before the polls are opened, the clerk must post an instruction card at each "voting compartment" (booth), and must post at least 5 specimen ballots outside the guardrail enclosure. 30-A MRSA §2528(8)(A).
Overview. Although Maine's election laws do not authorize absentee voting in any form or manner for open town meetings, absentee voting is not only permitted but must be made available for secret ballot elections. The law is that if a town has voted to "accept" Section 2528, then absentee ballots may be cast at all regular and special elections to which Section 2528 applies.
Absentee voting is also allowed by town meeting members in towns that have adopted the "representative town meeting" form of government. 30-A MRSA §2529. Only one such Maine town is now known.
Absentee voting must also be allowed in elections which by law must be conducted in accordance with Section 2528 even in towns which have not voted to accept Section 2528. These elections are identified near the beginning of Chapter IV.
Absentee voting is not allowed in Section 2527 municipalities or in "pure," open town meeting towns. 30-A MRSA §2529.
Absentee votes may be cast on paper ballots or ballot cards, or both methods may be used. Paper ballots may not be counted by automatic tabulating equipment. Paper ballots and ballot cards may be counted by deputized personnel at the counting center appointed by and under the direction of the clerk. 21-A MRSA §858 so provides, and is arguably incorporated into Title 30-A by the general reference statute.
Absentee voting procedure. For absentee voting the clerk of a Section 2528 municipality must use the absentee voting procedure provided by Title 21-A, MRSA. 30-A MRSA §2529(1) so requires. Those procedures are set out in 21-A MRSA §§751-764.
Clerk's duties. In using the procedures for absentee voting of Title 21-A, the clerk is to perform the duties prescribed therein for the Secretary of State. 30-A MRSA §2529(l). Because clerks have extensive duties as clerks in relation to absentee ballots, they should acquaint themselves thoroughly with Sections 751 through 764 of Title 21-A. Note in particular that the municipal officers by vote (which should be at a properly-noticed public meeting) can authorize the clerk to process (count) absentee ballots on election day. See 21-A MRSA §§760, 756(5). Where no such vote has occurred, it is the moderator who should process them on election day. See 21-A M RSA §759 for the procedure to be used by the moderator.
Requirements of application and ballot. It is the clerk who should prepare the absentee ballot application for local secret ballot elections. According to 30-A MRSA §2529(2), the absentee ballot requirements of Section 752 of Title 21-A apply to local secret ballot elections, with one exception (which is discussed below). A basic requirement is that absentee ballots be identical with regular ballots, except for the identifying markings discussed below.
Beyond that, the requirements of 21-A MRSA §752 (which should be consulted) govern the content of the application for an absentee ballot. These include, for example, a "conspicuously printed summary warning" of the provisions of 17-A MRSA §703, a criminal statute.
Return envelope. Section 752 of Title 21-A also governs the form of the envelope in which an absentee ballot, once used, must be returned to the clerk. The outside of the envelope must include another conspicuous warning of the provisions of 21-A MRSA §§758 and 791 (1)(A) and (C), and of 17-A MRSA 703. It must also have places on the outside for a statement of the reason for requesting an absentee ballot and for "an affidavit to be signed by the voter," as well as a certification to be completed and signed by an aide who assists the voter pursuant to 21-A MRSA §754-A(3).
The "exception" to 21-A MRSA §752's requirements is not a true exception, but an alternative made available by Title 30-A. Section 752(l) provides that "the words 'Absentee Ballot' must be printed on at least one side of the folded ballot." In that statute, "printed" means what it appears to say--printed by a printer. But Title 30-A MRSA §2529(2) provides that the words "Absentee Ballot" need not be printed if the words are "marked conspicuously." But, to qualify for this alternative to printing on the outside of the ballot, the words must be marked conspicuously on both sides of the folded ballot, and at least one of the markings must include an attestation with the written signature of the clerk and be sealed with the municipal seal. 30-A MRSA §2529(2). This alternative appears to be intended to prevent or minimize the chance of fraud in local election absentee ballot voting. Whatever its purpose, it is this alternative which authorizes local election ballots to be photocopied or otherwise mechanically reproduced is lieu of printed, as 30-A MRSA §2528(6)(G) authorizes of ballots generally.
When available. Under the general reference statute, it appears that absentee ballots must be available at least thirty days before election day. See 21-A MRSA §752. This is probably only a directory requirement. Thus, at least where there has been substantial compliance and no one's interest in the exercise of the vote has been harmed, a failure to comply strictly with the deadline probably will not invalidate an election.
Other. For the law on the procedure for obtaining absentee ballots, the methods of voting by absentee ballot, certain lists which the clerk must compile, the procedures which the clerk must follow on receipt of absentee ballots, and related matters, see 21-A MRSA §§ 753-764.