A proposed bill in the Maine legislature would increase the proof of residency required of college students registering to vote in the state of Maine. L.D. 155—An Act To Protect Voting Integrity by Establishing a Residency Verification Requirement for Purposes of Voting—would require students living in college-provided housing to obtain a Maine driver’s license, register their cars in the state of Maine or pay state income tax. 

Amanda Bennett ’17, a leader of the Bowdoin Democrats, expressed concern that the bill would make it difficult for students to vote in Maine. She has been talking with the ACLU of Maine about organizing student opposition to the bill. A public hearing on the bill will take place at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, February 15 at the state capitol building in Augusta. Bennett is hoping to organize vans so that Bowdoin students can attend and voice their opinions.

“We’ve seen in the past these types of bills and laws trying to restrict students’ rights to vote in other states as kind of Republicans ways of keeping traditionally liberal students from voting,” she said. 

As it is currently written, the bill does not provide a reason for these changes in voter residency requirements. Representative Kenneth Fredette (R-Newport) who sponsored the bill did not respond to an Orient request for comment.  

Jack Lucy ’17, a native Mainer, noted that the state has reasons to hold residency requirements, especially for individuals who are only living in the state temporarily. 

“If you’re voting, you’re claiming you are a Maine resident. So being a Maine resident, you have rights, like you have the right to vote in Maine, but you also have these responsibilities, such as [paying] income tax, registering your car, things that the state has an interest in,” Lucy said. “If you’re a resident, the state understandably doesn’t want you picking and choosing what you’re doing.”

He added that Bowdoin students who come from out of state do not always have the best understanding of Maine’s politics. 

“You could certainly make the argument that the state has a vested interest in prioritizing the policy views of people who plan to be in the state long term,” he said. “So you have a student who is coming to Maine—in some cases they’ve never been north of the Bowdoin campus. They don’t necessarily have a great grasp [of] the state.”

At the same time, Lucy said that encouraging political engagement—including voting—among Bowdoin students should always be a priority. 

“We certainly want to encourage students to be active in Maine politics,” he said. “Students call Maine their home for the most part and I think anything that would hamper that would potentially be disruptive.”

Elise Morano ’20, who is from New Jersey, registered to vote in Maine last fall. She found the process very easy and said it took less than 10 minutes. 

In an Orient survey conducted prior to the presidential election last November, 44.8 percent of Bowdoin students who responded said they were registered to vote in Maine. 

Morano said she was unsure if she would have been able to register if the new residency requirements were passed. 

“I didn’t pay income tax. I don’t have a car. I don’t know if I could get a Maine driver’s license. I don’t know what that would entail,” she said.

The bill is one of two addressing voting rights in Maine this legislative session. L.D. 121—An Act To Require Photographic Identification to Vote—would require voters to present a photo identification when voting in future elections.