In a recent public letter, the President of the Bowdoin College Democrats criticized the Republican candidate for governor, Paul LePage. The letter cited a 2005 student newspaper article where LePage argued that college students from out of state should not be eligible to vote in Maine elections unless they pay taxes and register their cars in Maine.
The president's letter noted, most humorously, that LePage would not be able to vote under his own restrictions, as he drives a company car and has allegedly dodged some taxes in Maine. This little bit of muckraking is not likely to hurt LePage, but it has provoked a serious question: Should college students from other states be allowed to vote in state and local Maine elections?
The question isn't whether students can vote or not; they can, and nothing should be done to change the law. Instead, the question is how college students can make the best use of their political freedom. If liberal arts colleges are to produce citizens capable of flourishing in a free and liberal society, it is essential that this education instills in students the political habits conducive to good government. Campus activism encouraging out-of-staters to vote in Maine elections does not instill these habits and should be avoided by students of the liberal arts.
In recent years, college students in Maine have been particularly keen to pick up a ballot. While waging their various moral crusades, however, students will have had the opportunity to support dozens of state and local candidates and more than $200,000,000 in bond issues. College students from other states do not pay Maine taxes and have little at stake in these elections. How, pray tell, do students from away vote on matters that are so inconsequential to their own affairs? Probably the same way Colby students filled out the SATs: carelessly.
Though student voters often regard elections lightly, they are always of personal and immediate importance to the people of Maine. Mainers see the danger of expensive bonds and the promise of some reform; they feel the heartache of a school consolidation proposal and the sting of rising property taxes. College students are insulated from the effects of their voting, while the residents of Maine must bear the full consequences.
College students might lament the failure of some cultural reform, but after a day of wearing black and deriding the backward nature of the state, they will happily return to their own little worlds.
Even if we ignore the complete lack of accountability entailed in voting outside of your home state, the practice remains a mad hazard. Liberal activists pander to the college students, knowing full well the majority of college votes will fall in their favor. They are not interested in helping students think seriously about political matters or develop responsible political behavior. These activists are interested only in advancing their own partisan agenda.
When the leaves begin their kaleidoscopic descent and autumn is well upon us, the Brunswick town clerk comes to harvest the fruit of this radically un-democratic electioneering. Student voters enter the ballot booth with a poor understanding of the issues at stake, casting ballots with nary a thought for the consequences.
Fortunately, the friendly College Democrats are eager to free them from this burden of thinking. Political advertisements adorn the walls mere feet from the booths, and activists canvass the line of voters instructing them to vote no on 1, 2 and 4—whatever be the liberal ticket du jour. Regardless of political persuasion, no one can honestly contend that early vote day at the college represents healthy voting behavior.
As leaders in a free and liberal democracy, the decision is ours to make. Do we wish to be responsible citizens, loyal to our own state and local governments? Do we want to develop habits and behaviors that will enrich our communities and sustain a vibrant democracy? Or do we hope to become mindless pawns of political war, apathetic to our own governments, our only allegiance to the popular sentiments of the majority?
If students from out of state are at all concerned with purpose of a liberal arts education, they must think carefully before registering to vote in Maine.