Thursday, February 1, 2007
Imagine that you’re a college student who goes to City Hall in your college town to register to vote, but when the clerk sees your college mailing address he says, “Do you live in the dorms?” If you say yes, you could be told that you don’t have the right to vote.
If Maine State Representative Gary Knight (R-Livermore Falls) has his way, that will soon be the case in Maine. On Jan. 31 Knight presented a bill to disenfranchise many college students, LD 203, to the Maine Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs. The key clause reads: “A student is not a resident of a municipality where the student resides if the student lives in housing owned by an institution of learning while attending the institution unless the student lived in that municipality prior to attending the institution.” In short, if you live in dorms, you cannot vote in your college town.
This bill would effectively disenfranchise many students, who often have trouble obtaining absentee ballots from their home districts. It would also privilege students who live off-campus over those who live on-campus in local politics, which is plainly undemocratic.
Waterville City Councilor Henry Beck (D), a longtime resident of Waterville, Maine, and a sophomore at Waterville’s Colby College, feels strongly about the importance of voting. Beck points to the 2000 presidential elections as his “political coming of age,” saying, “The world was changed by a handful of people whose rights were taken away” when they were disenfranchised in Florida. That election featured massive disenfranchisement when voters who happened to share the name of a convicted felon were incorrectly purged from voter rolls. Antiquated machines, which are more common in poorer counties, failed to register votes (hence the infamous hanging chads.) “That election was determined by who [was] allowed to vote,” Beck added.
The bill’s supporters claim that enfranchised college students are a threat to the taxpaying citizens of Maine who plan to stick around for longer than four years. In an interview with local newspaper the Kennebec Journal, Knight said, “I want these kids to become part of the political process. But I don’t want them to determine who our governor is, and then head back to California or Michigan, or wherever they’re from.”