On Tuesday, the approximately 1,377 students that did not cast ballots in last Saturday's Early Vote Day will have the opportunity to vote in the Maine State and town elections. In a year when a Maine ballot issue—Question 1, the people's veto to overturn Maine's new same-sex marriage law—is the only such marriage equality vote in the country, the State election is receiving a significant amount of national attention. Enthusiasm for this election is nearly on par with the excitement that surrounded last year's presidential campaign. Due to the state law that allows voters to register the day of an election, all students who are U.S. citizens and over 18 are still eligible to vote in Maine on November 3.
For the majority of students hailing from states other than Maine, this allows them a choice between two ballots. Virtually no other demographic in the United States has this choice. Ordinarily, citizens vote in the state in which they reside—and only that state. For college students, the concept of residency is complicated. While we spend the majority of our time as college students living at school, typically we remain dependents of our parents and identify our "permanent residence" in our home state. We are left in a strange legal limbo, able to claim residency and vote in one or the other, depending on our preference.
When choosing whether to vote in Maine or in our home states, we should commit to voting allegiance where we feel most like residents. For those of us who still consider the places where we grew up to be our homes—whether it is because our siblings still attend public schools, because we are employed in that state and pay taxes, or because we take to heart ballot issues affecting our families—it is perfectly acceptable to decline to vote in Maine in favor of voting in home-state elections. On the flip side, those students who consider Brunswick, Maine, to be their homes should vote here, casting their ballots with meaningful intentions for the duration of their residency at Bowdoin.
Whichever version of "home" we choose, the privilege to vote in an election implies a responsibility not only to the issues at hand, but more importantly, a continual relationship to the place in which we vote. Our ability to register and vote in either state presents an opportunity to volley ourselves between states based on hot-button topics, rather than issues important to the local population. This swinging between states, a privilege not afforded to others, can be dangerous if made in haste or too often. While voting on a significant national issue is important, making uninformed decisions on local ballot issues is anything but productive.
Question 1 has highlighted this issue, possibly more than ever, in Maine. Out-of-state college voters, many of them switching their registration specifically for the marriage equality question, carry the potential to influence the outcome of all the ballot referendums—from same-sex marriage to state taxes—in a significant way. The intensive campaigning by both student and outside groups signifies the recognition of the student vote as a strategic one. Though we may be pressured to vote this week simply because it is quick and convenient, we should instead be doing so because the issues on the ballot are important to the place that many of us call home.