EDITORIALS

Turning away college students

Deputy registrar Gus DeSiervo (left) of Orono helps register first-time voter Nathan Pukay, 18, (right) a freshman computer science major at the University of Maine in Orono on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008 where the approximately 4,300 students who live on campus were eligible to cast their ballots. Pukay described his first voting experience as &quotquick and painless" and said that he voted for McCain because &quotObama makes a lot of promises he can't keep."
Bangor Daily News file photo
Deputy registrar Gus DeSiervo (left) of Orono helps register first-time voter Nathan Pukay, 18, (right) a freshman computer science major at the University of Maine in Orono on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008 where the approximately 4,300 students who live on campus were eligible to cast their ballots. Pukay described his first voting experience as "quick and painless" and said that he voted for McCain because "Obama makes a lot of promises he can't keep."
Posted July 28, 2011, at 6:09 p.m.

Here’s a great economic development strategy for the oldest state in the nation — treat college-educated young people as pariahs.

Rather than encourage these people to begin to put down roots and get involved in the local community, ensure that you are as unwelcoming as possible. Accuse them of fraud. Blame them when local elections didn’t go the way you wanted. Put up barriers making it harder for them to vote locally.

Earlier this week, Charlie Webster, head of the Maine Republican Party, held up a list he said showed 206 college students from other states have illegally voted in Maine.

“The simple fact that 206 people, here on ‘out of state tuition,’ are actually voting to decide who will represent our communities in the state Legislature ought to concern Mainers,” Mr. Webster said in a press release, written in all capital letters and replete with misspellings.

Actually, Mr. Webster, the U.S. Supreme Court — the ultimate interpreter of the U.S. Constitution — ruled in 1979 that college students are completely within their rights to vote where they attend school.

Mr. Webster’s evidence of fraud appears to be his combination of two lists that are not related and rely on completely different standards. One is a list of students who pay out-of-state tuition at Maine’s public universities.

The other is a list of people who registered to vote in college towns. If people appeared on both lists, Mr. Webster accused them of fraud.

Here’s a simple flaw in his logic: By University of Maine System rules, which aren’t clearly written or easy to understand, we’ll admit, a student generally must live in Maine for a year before qualifying for in-state tuition. By law, a student can legally list a college dorm as his address. By Mr. Webster’s logic, a student who comes from another state to attend college in Maine could not be allowed to vote in Maine for at least a year. This isn’t the law, even if Mr. Webster wishes it were.

Kevin Price, a self-described Republican and recent UMaine graduate, blasted Mr. Webster on his blog. “Until Webster presents substantive evidence to back his claim that ‘several’ of those listed voted in multiple states, he is blowing hot air.” Mr. Price said he could identify two of his friends on the list, which consisted of an initial, out-of-state hometown and birth date. He said he helped them register to vote several weeks prior to the 2010 election. They registered as Republicans, he wrote.

“Yes, most on Webster’s list pay out-of-state tuition,” Mr. Price wrote. “Those on the list also live in Maine nine months of the year.

“Why is Webster not looking into the voting habits of seasonal residents?” he asked. “The answer is simple: Young people tend to be liberal, seasonal residents tend to be conservative. This has to be one of the most blatant and embarrassing attempts to control the outcomes of an election to favor one party in recent Maine history.”

Voter fraud is a serious charge. Leveling it at college students without real evidence is irresponsible and counterproductive.

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