Maine students fight for their voting rights

Lawmakers in Augusta heard testimony on Wednesday from Maine students speaking out against Republican-sponsored legislation to restrict voting rights. The two bills, one to require Photo ID to vote and the other to impose new hoops for student voters to jump through were criticized as unnecessary and discriminatory.

“I vote in Lewiston because I see Lewiston as having an incredible future, and I want to be a part of it,” said Meghan Lynch, a student at Bates College, who made the case that welcoming students to Maine communities helps to build the state. “I have so much pride this city, as well as gratitude for the person it has made me to be. Maine has a ton to offer, and the future of this state is exciting. Please, help other college students to feel this excitement by allowing them to vote here.”

Also opposing the bills were Maine’s Attorney General and Secretary of State, the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP, the Maine People’s Alliance, the League of Women Voters, Maine Student Action and Equality Maine.

“Countless Americans have fought, and many thousands have given their lives, to protect our rights. Voting rights are the cornerstone of our democracy, and are protected by more clauses of the Constitution than any other right,” said Sen. Brownie Carson, a Haprswell Democrat and Marine Corps veteran who served in Vietnam. “Voter suppression of any kind in our democracy is wrong, and flies in the face of the values our brave men and women fought to protect. Bills like this have been rejected time and again, for the suppressive effect they have on voter participation. This bill should be rejected, too.”

According to the Bangor Daily News, Julie Flynn, a deputy secretary of state who oversees Maine’s elections, testified that she had never seen a case of voter impersonation in Maine in 22 years on the job.

In 2012, Republican Secretary of State Charles Summers, a supporter of voting restrictions, commissioned a panel to probe supposed voter fraud in Maine and despite months of investigation was unable to find a single case.

“Rep. Fredette’s bill is unconstitutional on its face,” said Democratic Sen. Nate Libby of Lewiston, referring to the student voting proposal. “Maine students who live in dormitories are Maine residents, plain and simple. They pay taxes in Maine. They shop at Maine businesses and are subject to Maine laws — the same as retirees or people with second homes who live in Maine only part of the year but list Maine as their primary residence. Given Maine’s demographic challenges, we should be welcoming these young people to our state, with sincere hope that they’ll stay after they graduate. We shouldn’t demean them or treat them like second-hand citizens, and we certainly shouldn’t stand in the way of their guaranteed right to vote.”

Photo: members of Maine Student Action pose with Attorney General Janet Mills

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