November 14, 2019
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Clearing the smoke on Maine laws related to student voting

BDN file | BDN
BDN file | BDN
A Bangor High School ballot counted in the statewide mock election on Oct. 25.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Republican Gov. Paul LePage warned college students from outside Maine who are studying here that registering as a Maine voter comes with strings attached.

LePage issued a news release Monday to inform students attending colleges in Maine that state government will check up on them following the election. The release came after Clayton Spencer, president of Bates College in LePage’s hometown of Lewiston, alleged that fliers left Saturday on campus were designed to frighten students from voting in Tuesday’s election.

“After the election, we will do everything we can that is allowed under state and federal law to verify college students who voted here are following Maine law,” said LePage, whose message was also a thinly veiled attack on Democrats and the long-simmering dispute between Republicans and Democrats about access to the polls.

“Democrats for decades have encouraged college students from out of state to vote in Maine, even though there is no way to determine whether these college students also voted in their home states,” said LePage.

There are no recent cases of that type of two-state voter fraud on record as having been prosecuted in Maine. A two-month investigation into alleged student voter fraud in 2011, launched by Republican Secretary of State Charlie Summers, turned up no evidence that it has occurred in Maine.

But that did not quell political sniping on the eve of Tuesday’s voting.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine said Monday that LePage is trying to intimidate people who are studying in Maine.

“The governor’s statement seems designed to make college students afraid to vote,” said ACLU of Maine legal director Zachary Heiden in a written statement. “Voter intimidation and harassment is illegal and we call on the Department of Justice to investigate the intent of the governor’s comments.”

The law

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said registering to vote in Maine sets an “expectation that you obtain a Maine driver’s license and do other public business as a Maine resident.

“However, whether an individual obtains a Maine driver’s license or not has no impact on your ability to exercise your right to vote,” said Dunlap in a written statement. “There is no statutory connectivity between motor vehicle law and election law, and no one should be deterred from voting because of other aspects of residency found in other titles of Maine law.”

Dunlap did not immediately respond to a question about what his office, which also oversees motor vehicle registration and driver’s licensing, could do to ensure that voters new to the state were complying with other residency requirements.

Voter registration checklist

The process for college students from out of state is the same as for everyone else.

— United States citizenship is required.

— You must be at least 17 years old to register and must be at least 18 years of age to vote in a general election.

— You must have established residency in the municipality where you plan to vote.

OK, so what constitutes a residence? “Residence” is defined in Maine election laws as “that place where the person has established a fixed and principal home to which the person, whenever temporarily absent, intends to return.” According to information from the secretary of state’s office, courts have interpreted residency similarly to the common law concept of domicile.

That means “you must intend to make a place your home, and not just physically live there,” reads an explainer document from the Secretary of State. “You may live in two different homes during different parts of the year but as a matter of law you can have only one domicile and thus only one voting residence.”

After the election?

Your driver’s license. If you register to vote in Maine, that’s akin to declaring residency and Maine law requires you to obtain a Maine driver’s licence within 30 days. Driving in Maine without a Maine driver’s license 90 days after you have established residency is a crime.

Your vehicle registration. If you own a vehicle in Maine, you must register it here within 30 days of declaring residency. Registering a car in Maine requires that car to be insured according to Maine law.

Your income taxes. Residents of Maine are subject to Maine income taxes.

Specifically for students

A dorm room works. “You can establish a voting residence at your Maine school address if you have a present intention to remain at that address for the time being, whether that residence is a dorm, apartment, house or even a hotel,” according to the secretary of state’s office.

Your school’s town can be your “hometown.” However, if you have residency established in another state, you must vote in that state. You can be a resident in only one state at a time. The only way to “abandon” residency in a state is to assert residence in another state.

Can you be investigated after the election?

The answer is murky. While residency requirements are firm for motor vehicle operations and paying taxes, those issues are usually dealt with on a case-by-case basis. According to a spokeswoman for the secretary of state’s office, there is no mechanism that automatically cross-references voter registration and other residency requirements.

“As for registering your vehicle or getting your license within the time period outlined in Maine law, that is a law enforcement issue and police officers issue citations for noncompliance,” wrote secretary of state spokeswoman Kristen Muszynski in response to questions from the Bangor Daily News. “We do not police compliance, but we do notify people of the law and what they need to do to comply.”

Spokespeople for the LePage administration did not immediately reply to questions from the BDN about what the governor intends to do to follow up on new voter registrations and whether that will represent an increase in activity over previous years.

 



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