LEWISTON, Maine — Sometime Saturday, orange fliers appeared at a number of Bates College dorms and at the school’s dining hall claiming to be a “Legal Advisory” for Bates students.
The fliers told students, falsely, that “to register and vote in Lewiston, you must pay to change your driver’s license to Lewiston, Maine, within 30 days” and “pay to re-register any vehicle you have in Lewiston.”
They also pointed out that registering a vehicle requires passing an inspection and usually costs hundreds of dollars.
“They’re all over the place,” said senior Meghan Lynch, though students had ripped most down by Sunday afternoon.
Maine law does not require a driver’s license to vote. Students are allowed to vote as long as they consider themselves residents of Lewiston. (Here are the rules for college students seeking to vote, as outlined by the secretary of state in 2012.)
Bates students and administration, as well as Democratic party leaders in Maine, decried these fliers as clear voter suppression.
Emily Manter, a Bates junior, said it “makes me really angry.”
She said that while she was out knocking on doors Saturday to try to round up votes for a ballot question that would hike the minimum wage in Maine, someone else was at Bates trying to intimidate students into staying home on Election Day.
“It shows how much some people don’t want us to vote,” Manter said.
Bates President Clayton Spencer said the incident was “clearly a deliberate attempt at voter suppression.”
She added, “We are proud of our students’ interest and participation in the electoral process, and I am deeply disturbed that anyone would seek to deter their exercise of the most basic form of citizenship. We at Bates College are doing everything possible to ensure that our students have clear information about how to register and vote.”
Manter said she’s sure the fliers succeeded in discouraging at least some potential voters on campus, freshmen who don’t know any better and other students who might have participated for the first time. Manter said that’s frustrating.
Phil Bartlett, the Maine Democratic Party leader, said, “The false information contained in these fliers is a deliberate attempt to suppress the millennial vote. “
“There is nothing in Maine law that states that college students must change their driver’s licenses in order to vote. In fact, the Secretary of State’s office has made explicitly clear that a dorm can be a student’s legal voting residence, and that paying out-of-state tuition does not preclude a student from voting,” he said.
It’s not clear who made or distributed the fliers. The papers gave no indication, despite a legal requirement that they carry a disclaimer. In a tweet, Jason Savage, the executive director of the Maine Republican Party, said his organization had “ nothing to do” with the fliers.