Multiple campus voting districts and misconceptions about student voting could create confusion on Election Day for many students planning to vote in their first presidential election. Town officials, college administrators, and student organizations are working to ensure that voting goes smoothly, but in the event that students have difficulties, the major political parties have attorneys in place to provide assistance.
"Given the large numbers of lawyers hired by both sides in Maine alone, we know that this is a serious issue," said Maine College Republicans Executive Director Chris Averill '06.
Maine College Democrats Co-President Alex Cornell du Houx '06 said his party plans to place student monitors at all polling places to ensure that no students are turned away. Party lawyers will also be stationed at the College to provide legal assistance.
In the 2000 election at least ten Bowdoin students were initially refused the right to vote by a town official. Congressman Tom Allen '67 sent an attorney to Brunswick to assist the students. Students also called on then-professor Marc Hetherington, who helped negotiate with the town.
"The students were well within the law," Hetherington said in 2000.
Barriers to student voting are a major issue nationwide. A New York Times editorial last month encouraged election officials and colleges to make sure that students are registered and can vote without interference. The national voting initiative Rock the Vote references Bowdoin's problems in 2000 as one example of college voter "suppression."
Interim Director of Residential Life Kim Pacelli '98 said that this year town officials are working with staff and students to provide a free flow of information.
"We've had a great relationship," Pacelli said of her work with Town Clerk Fran Smith.
Officials are particularly worried about two issues that could cause problems: students need to bring the proper documentation when registering at the polls, and they need to make sure that they go to the proper polling place.
Students who plan on registering to vote while at the polls should bring photo identification, according to Smith. A student ID is acceptable identification. While state law allows registrars to request a document that proves residency, such as a phone bill, Smith said poll workers will use the Bowdoin College Student Directory as a confirmation source on November 2.
"We try to make it as easy as possible," Smith said.
Students who are already registered should also bring photo identification just in case additional confirmation is necessary, she said.
Another possible snag on Election Day could come from voting district lines. Brunswick divides the campus into four different voting districts.
"What they want to do is have the influence of the Bowdoin student voting locally be dispersed," said Dean of Student Affairs Craig Bradley.
Officials fear this gerrymandering could cause confusion, as students who reside on college property need to vote at varying locations. Both major political parties will provide transportation to the polls, and the Office of Residential Life is considering doing the same.
"We find ourselves in this position where depending on where you live on campus, you could vote in any one four different districts," said Pacelli, who is helping to lead a voting initiative at the College.
First-year bricks, Coles Tower, Brunswick Apartments, and houses on Harpswell Road are all located in different districts. The four districts encompassing the College vote at three different locations. (See map, this page.)
Students voting in Maine who have moved to a different dormitory since their original registration will have to correct their residency information when they go to vote. Smith said that students can make these changes when they go to vote on November 2 by visiting the registrar's table at their new polling place.
Student participation in next month's election could reach an unprecedented level as campus organizations are encouraging students to vote in Maine since it is a swing state this year. The nonpartisan New Voters Project worked with local and Maine party leaders here to register more than 5,000 students statewide. More than 1,000 of these new registrants are Bowdoin students, Cornell du Houx said. According to the New Voters Project, 36 percent of 18 to 24 year-olds nationwide voted in 2000, compared to 70 percent of older citizens.
Smith provided tips for effective and efficient voting for the large number of students who may vote on this Election Day.
"The state ballot is two-sided," she said. Often, voters forget to check the back of their ballot.
Voters do not have to vote for all offices on the ballots?they may omit any offices or questions for which they do not want to select a choice.
Students who want to move through the polls quickly may want to consider voting during the late morning or afternoon, Smith said. The busiest times are usually 8:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and after people get out of work, from 3:30 p.m. on, she said. The polls are open from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.