Saturday, October 31, 2009

Dead Horse Of the Day: College Voting

(Late breaking note: In the I kid you not category, this reporter just read in The Bowdoin Orient that students could prove their Maine residency "e.g. with a Bowdoin Directory or utility bill." Given this high standard of integrity, the embarrassed lamp is lit at Side editorial offices.)

It's a gloomy Saturday afternoon, and I thought to myself, what the hell, it seems like a fine time to pull out an already dead horse and beat it some more.

How could I resist after reading about Council Candidate Karen Klatt spending $158 for an ad in The Bowdoin Orient, the local college newspaper? And that the town made special arrangements so that 400+ Bowdoin students could vote early in our upcoming election? And on a Saturday, no less, probably with overtime pay involved, and lots of heads full of yeasty cobwebs lining up to mark their choices.

The dead horse involved is the issue of whether attending a college makes you a legal resident for voting purposes. The reality that the Maine Constitution, Article II, Section 1, says the following regarding Qualification of electors

nor shall the residence of a student at any seminary of learning entitle the student to the right of suffrage in the city, town or plantation where such seminary is established.

has long since been deemed irrelevant by the powers that be. And even worse in this day and age, "unfair."

Side's view is that Bowdoin Students, unless their permanent home is in Brunswick, have about as much of a stake in the future of our town as I do in the future of Toronto, Canada. And that unless their actual home is in Maine, they have about as much of a stake in the future of our state as you do in the future of Sardinia.

So what. The forces of tolerance and inclusiveness say the more votes the merrier, and besides, the children are our future, and they spend money on ice cream and beer in the local area, so THEY DO have a stake in our town. That should make it right, shouldn't it?

And besides, they say with a scowl, why don't you want them to vote? Apparently these warm hearts aren't able to distinguish between wanting students to vote where they actually have a permanent residence instead of where they happen to be away at school.

My guess is that these same warm hearts, if they have children going to college elsewhere, remind them to file an absentee ballot in Brunswick because "this is their home, and they have a stake in its future."

The $64 question that comes to mind is whether "the system" has enough integrity to ensure that these innocent students don't accidentally vote both in their college town, and by absentee in the town of their home.

Here...let me whisper in your ear: the correct answer to the $64 question is no, it doesn't.

Well anyway, what's the big deal? An issue here, a race there swung by some dorm rats all in the name of holding a stake through local spending. And at the same time, making some old people feel good about themselves, no matter what the consequences.

If that's the standard, I guess I should get to vote in Detroit, since I've bought a boat load of cars from the former Big 3. And I should have been able to vote in Moorestown, New Jersey and Arlington, Virginia, since I spent at least the equivalent of a four year college education "in residence" in both, and I can assure you that I spent a good deal more in those towns than any Bowdoin student spends in ours.

But hey, as long as we're gonna extend the little cherubs the privilege of residency in our fair town, let's go all the way with it. Let's make sure they live up to their side of the bargain by getting a Maine Driver's License and registering their car in Maine, and even better, paying auto excise tax right here in Brunswick! Some will think this a bit harsh, but college seems like a fine time to learn about obeying laws, don't you think? And this is what Maine law requires of "residents." Along with filing Maine Income Tax Returns.

All it would take to make this come together would be for town election officials to ask to see a driver's license when the college kids show up to vote. Sounds simple enough to me; a great civics lesson combined with exercising responsible voting behavior.

Maybe town officials are already doing this to ensure the integrity of the local registration and election process.

And maybe University of Maine officials are giving in-state tuition rates to any of their students who vote in local elections, in keeping with their certified residence status.

And in a related story, hell freezes over.

Details at 11.

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