A current petition has the potential of complicating the newly popular process of voting for many Bates students.
Several Lewiston residents proposed a petition last Tuesday, the 24th, to move the municipal elections—mayor, city counselors, and school board members—from November to June.
The man spearheading the committee behind this petition is Luke Jensen, a Republican mayoral candidate himself, who lost in the November 3rd election.
According to Jensen’s explanation in the Facebook group ‘Lewiston Rocks the Vote,’ “The City Charter sets the date for municipal elections, so this petition aims to directly amend the Charter” by moving the voting date to the second Tuesday in June as well as moving the date officials are sworn in to the first Monday of August. As the Sun Journal reported, to come to a vote, this petition needs 2,736 signatures by March 16th.
Jensen’s two main goals behind this petition are “to communicate to Bates voters that they should weigh the ethics of voting in local elections, and secondary, to boost voter turnout among longtime Lewiston residents, considering the poor turnout this year”.
Following this, Jensen goes on to detail the reasoning behind his petition. First is the effect of the Bates student participation in the November 3rd elections.
“It was clear that the Bates turnout was hugely disproportionate to the rest of the city,” but more bothersome to Jensen were the “reports that Bates students were given, ahead of time, voter registration cards and a printed list of which candidates to vote for, rather than them going to the voting booths of their own accord”.
Jensen attended college in Virginia, while still calling Maine his home. He continued to vote in Maine through his years in college via absentee ballot, as it is his “personal belief that college students should vote in their home town”. To him, it makes sense for people to vote in the area they are paying taxes, or their parents are claiming them for tax purposes. He understands that college towns can be considered ‘home’ for certain students, as they might contribute to the community and immerse themselves there. This is why he points out that those students can continue voting through the absentee ballot if this petition passes.
An additional benefit precipitating from this change is, hopefully, an increased voter turnout. Due to warmer weather in June, more will be out and willing to vote, especially the elderly. Also, “our snowbirds will be around in person” and more likely to vote, says Jensen.
Finally, Jensen mentions that this change could possibly “save the city some money”, as Maine would be able to “combine local elections with a voter referendum”.
To fully understand the situation, a couple points in this argument need to be addressed. One is the fact that Jensen notes in the Facebook post that the absentee ballot method of voting is “less-secure,” so subjecting Bates students to this is not quite as easy as it may seem at first.
Additionally, the suggestion that holding an additional election would possibly save money is also somewhat misleading. The City Clerk, Kathy Montejo, says, “The cost to run a municipal election is approximately $26,400. If the proposed Charter amendments are approved, the City would incur this approximate cost every two years,” due to the additional election in June. Essentially, the city might save some money each November by not paying to hold municipal elections. However, the city would have to pay to hold these elections in June, regardless. The November elections might be cheaper, but the addition of the June elections would make the entire process more expensive, overall.
While it is natural for the supporters of the petition to mainly consist of those who would benefit from fewer Bates votes, it is equally natural for those in opposition to the petition to be those who benefit from the Bates vote.
Ben Chin, mayoral candidate and Bates graduate has certainly made his presence known on campus. This was seen in the November 3rd election as, according to the article addressing the petition in the Sun Journal, he won most decisively in Wards 1 and 3—where Bates voters are.
In response to this petition, Chin says, “Our generation is maybe the most mobile generation in American history.” Going on to describe the reasons this is beneficial, Chin points to the fact that we have a great opportunity to see the world and become exposed to different ideas and cultures in order to formulate our own opinions and understand the world better. This happens best, and students learn the most, when they “engage in the process” and the community listens in return. Chin believes, “participating in elections is a good start.”
In terms of this election specifically, Chin says, “In Lewiston, this election is about whether or not a thousand asylum seekers will be homeless or not. It’s about whether our neighbors will have heat in the winter or not. If you vote, people stand a chance. If you don’t, their chances get a lot worse. At the end of the day, it’s as simple as that.”
To the petition directly, Chin states, “I oppose this petition because the problem in our democracy is that too few people vote, not too many. We should spend our time making it easier for everyone to vote, not putting up obstacles for the people with different opinions than us.”
An additional voice of opposition, this one on campus, is the Bates Democrats. Building on Chin’s arguments, they state that only some students on campus vote in Lewiston and those who do are “often well-informed and civically engaged voters.” This petition, which will complicate the process of voting for Bates students, according to Chin “serves to drive a wedge between Bates students and the wider community of which we are a part.”
The Bureau of Corporations, Elections, and Commissions for the state of Maine states that a voter must be a United States citizen, be at least 17 (you must be 18 to vote, but you may vote at 17 in the primary elections only if you will be 18 by the general election), and must establish and maintain a voting residence in the city.
‘Residence’ to the Bureau means “that place where the person has established a fixed and principal home to which the person, whenever temporarily absent, intends to return.” In addition, the Bureau goes on to emphasize that this means the city in which you register must be the place you choose to establish your residence.
The Bureau states that students have the right to register where their school is, “provided [they] have established a voting residence there as defined in Maine’s election laws.”
While, initially this petition may entice reactions from unaffected observation to rage, this is an opportunity for all to consider the role we, as students, have, or wish to have, in the places we call ‘home.’