This past November, the Bates student body mobilized in a way that it had not for many years. The school achieved a record turnout for the 2016 election, and had a huge upsurge in student voter registration. Yet now all of that progress is under the threat of delegitimization from the Maine state government, all because students took the dangerous action of exercising their civil duty.
Voter suppression is not new in Maine. Prior to the 2016 election, a misleading pamphlet was being circulated around Bates college stating that students would have to pay to register their vehicle in Lewiston if they were to register to vote, which they did in fact not have to do. This is an example of a poll tax, when the act of voting itself requires some form of payment, and it was a tactic used in the Jim Crow South during the post-civil war period to restrict minority and immigrant voting, specifically African American voting. After the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, poll taxes became illegal, and for the most part this remained true, right up until the last decade.
Voter IDs, which many claim would reduce the amount of illegal voting that occurs and ensure voter security, are in many forms a poll tax, since IDs cost money. The movement for ‘voter security’ has grown, and restrictive voter laws have been implemented across the United States, all in the name of so called ‘security’. Yet perhaps it would be wiser to remember the words of Benjamin Franklin who said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
Nonetheless, currently in the Maine state house, the Committee on Veteran and Legal Affairs is considering a bill that would not only require an ID to vote, but also change the legal definition of residency to restrict students from voting. The bill, LD 155, is “an Act to Protect Voting Integrity by Establishing a Residency Verification Requirement for Purposes of Voting.” Proposed by House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, the bill slyly masks itself within the terms of ‘protection’ and ‘integrity’, but whether it actually provides these thing is disputable.
Not willing to let their rights be taken from them, the Bates Democrats in collaboration with Bates Student Action have been coordinating with willing students to testify on Wednesday, February 15th during a statehouse public hearing to present their objection to the passage of this bill. Many of the Bates Democrats clearly are outraged at the ramification of the bill.
“Bates has had a record number of voter registration this year. We want to increase that number, not suppress it!” says Maitri Chittidi ‘17, Co-President of Bates Democrats.
Another Bates Democrat, Daniel Fichmann ‘19, commented that “with less than 60% of eligible voters making their voices heard, the government should spending its time figuring out ways to make voting more accessible to everyone and encourage civic engagement especially from young adults.”
The push for voter delegitimization seemingly appears to be only a greater trend in the process of growing American illiberalism. “We are supposed to be the country of the ‘free’, yet more and more it appears that the word ‘free’ applies only to a selective group of people. The greatest stain on America’s history was when the phrase “All men are created equal” permitted the existence of slavery. As we have learned over the last 240 years, ‘all men’ should not only be attributed to a particular group of Americans. It should be all, without exception”, remarked one student who asked to remain anonymous.
Whether or not the bill will reach the house floor has yet to be determined. Bates students should continue to be mindful and cautious of state efforts to limit voting rights.