Students have a right to vote

I was floored when I read the Sun Journal's front page story (July 29) regarding the Republican effort to block the use of University of Maine at Farmington vans to take students to the polls in 2010 because it would be using public funds for political purposes.

State GOP Chairman Charles Webster and the UMF Young Republicans must really hate democracy. Why else would they go to such great lengths to subvert it?

Forget the fact that students pay an activity fee to use the vans.

By the Republicans' logic, it would also be illegal to use public buildings as polling places or government employees to run them.

They say their motive is to curb widespread voter fraud, yet their claims are unsubstantiated. Webster alleges fraud because non-resident college students are registered to vote in Maine, apparently unaware that their right to do so has been settled law since the 1979 U.S. Supreme Court case Symm v. U.S.

Why isn’t Webster concerned about use of government-funded transportation to get senior citizens to the polls? Maybe in the 2012 election he should be, given the GOP’s eagerness to cut Social Security and Medicare.

The very idea of plotting to make it difficult for citizens to vote reminds me of what a wise Republican named Dwight D. Eisenhower once said: “How far can you go without destroying from within what you are trying to defend from without?”

Where are the wise Republicans in 2011?

Mark Bilodeau, Auburn

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Cris Johnson's picture

The Heart of the Matter

Reading the comments to this article is an education in why the public discourse has become so difficult: superficial expertise.

A well stated observation is met, head on, by careless musings rooted in fearful imagination.

A carefully articulated reply, going step by step through the analysis of a complicated decision in terms a layman can easily follow is tossed aside with disdain. As if "poo-poo" is an appropriate response to a serious attempt to clarify an issue of the highest importance to the single most important constitutional right Americans have: the right to vote.

I don't know Mr. Rimil, but I wish I did. More folks need to set aside the one-liners they've been fed and listen to the discussions that explore the reasoning behind positions.

Yes, it takes time. Time to read. Time to consider. Time many don't have because of the how hard they must work just to get by. To be an authority on the "Jist" of an issue is to miss the point and embrace the "Spin."

That's the heart of the matter.

Joe Morin's picture

Right wing extremism???

I get so tired of these characterizations. Tea Partiers are terrorists etc... You know what I think is extreme having 14 Trillion national debt. You know what else is extreme??? 1.7 trillion deficit spending. Even more extreme is cuting 200 Billion dollars of that and A. acting like it will do a damn thing and B. Crying that it is too much. Everybody is going to be in for a rude awakening.

Joe Morin's picture

Lets be honest

I am in favor of same day voter registration. I feel voting should be easy for Maines citizens. I think the more people that vote then the more accurate the representation of a communities wants are represented. I am conservative but even if this law aids my personal views I feel the Democratic process is more important than my own personal feelings. Principles aren't principles if they are part time.

P.S."Maybe in the 2012 election he should be, given the GOP’s eagerness to cut Social Security and Medicare." Do you really think they are eager??? This stuff is so volatile nobody is eager!!! Read the world news and see what overspending is doing not just to our economy but to the global economy. Mr. Bilodeau your thoughts are easier to recieve when they stand alone. Voter registration to medicaid & medicare. Save that fight for another day.

RONALD RIML's picture

Why not 'Read' the Symm case, Robert......

Here are excerpts which destroy your argument......

The three District Judge Court stated:

"The case which controls this controversy is Whatley v. Clark, 482 F.2d 1230 (5th Cir. 1973) (hereinafter "Whatley"). That case holds that the statutory presumption of non-residency contained in Article 5.08(k) of the Texas Election Code is unconstitutional. Much of the previous litigation relating to voting rights in Waller County is rendered inapplicable by Whatley; however, that prior litigation, in the interest of completeness, should be reviewed."

The assertion is then made:

"The complaint of the United States alleges that defendant Symm, by virtue of certain practices, including the use of a unique form, has abridged the right of Prairie View dormitory residents to vote in violation of their rights under the 14th, 15th and 26th Amendments to the Constitution of the United States. In oral argument, the United States has consistently contended that its cause of action is considerably broader than the cause asserted in Ballas, supra, in that the United States does not object to the use of the Symm form per se, but contends that the form is merely a part of a more pervasive pattern of conduct which has the effect and the intent of depriving dormitory students at Prairie View of their rights under the 14th, 15th and 26th Amendments."

Testimony of University of Texas Students and Registrars from other Counties

"The United States introduced in evidence the testimony of 70 registrars of voters, located in virtually every Texas county containing an institution of higher learning. None of the registrars of the 70 other Texas counties containing institutions of higher learning follows Mr. Symm's procedure; none applies the presumption contained in Article 5.08(k) and declared unconstitutional in Whatley; and none subjects students to any more rigorous scrutiny than other applicants for voting. All feel that they are applying the law of the state properly. All state that they would not register a potential applicant, if they knew he was not a resident of the county, but that they do not have the personnel or manpower to conduct detailed inquiries with reference to each applicant."

Authorities Relating to 26th Amendment Allegations

Senate Report No. 26, 92nd Cong., 1st Sess. (1971), with reference to the 26th Amendment noted that:

". . . forcing young voters to undertake special burdens — obtaining absentee ballots, or traveling to one centralized location in each city, for example — in order to exercise their right to vote might well serve to dissuade them from participating in the election. This result and the election procedures that create it, are at least inconsistent with the purpose of the Voting Rights Act, which sought to encourage greater political participation on the part of the young; such segregation might even amount to a denial of their 14th Amendment right to equal protection of the laws in the exercise of the franchise."
In 1976, Congress amended the language of Title III of the Voting Rights Act in § 1973bb to specifically set out that this portion of the Act was "to implement" the 26th Amendment.

1255*1255 Litigation was necessary to enforce the promises of Title III of the Voting Rights Act Amendment of 1970, and the 26th Amendment. One such case was Whatley. Whatley does not stand alone, but is merely one of a number of cases reaching virtually the identical conclusion and applying the same philosophy.

The first of this series of cases is Bright v. Baesler, 336 F.Supp. 527 (E.D.Ky.1971). Like Whatley, Bright v. Baesler was a case in which officials in Lexington, Kentucky sought to enforce a presumption that students were domiciliaries of their parents' homes. Plaintiffs contended that the official practices were violative of the 14th and 26th Amendments, as well as of 42 U.S.C. § 1971, et seq. As in the case at bar, the registrar in Bright had required students to complete and answer a series of questions designed to overcome a presumption that they were domiciliaries of their parents' homes.

The court enjoined the defendants from imposing additional or special criteria for proof of domicile upon University students; required the defendant to ask each applicant the same questions regardless of occupation and required that the questions asked reasonably relate to proof of domicile. The court at 336 F.Supp. at 533 said:

". . . Because voting rights involve the First Amendment freedom of association, the State may not impose restrictions upon that right unless there is a compelling state interest in the imposed restriction or classification. Williams v. Rhodes, 393 U.S. 23, 89 S.Ct. 5, 21 L.Ed.2d 24 (1968). It would seem, therefore, that the extra burden of proof imposed upon students in regard to proof of their domicil may only be held constitutional if a compelling state interest is thereby served.
"There is no dispute in this case that Kentucky has the right to require every applicant for voter registration to be a domiciliary of the precinct in which he offers to vote. But may the State require, and is there any compelling reason why it should require, students to go to greater lengths to prove domicil than other citizens. This court thinks not.
. . . . .
"There is no reason to assume, and the defendants have offered none that would satisfy the compelling interest test, that a person claiming to have fulfilled the domiciliary requirement is not to be believed if he is a student . . . Simply put there are no salient reasons to treat registering students differently from other people merely because they are students.
. . . . .
"Notwithstanding the fact that there may be a significant number of students who do intend to return to their former homes, there is an equally significant number of students who do not intend to return to their former homes, and the presumption against university domicil unfairly discriminates against them.
. . . . .
"The court cannot conceive of any reason why it should not be presumed that student applicants for voter registration, like any other applicant, have made their application to register in good faith. Admittedly a student may not be able to state with certitude that he intends to permanently live in the university community, but such a declaration is not necessary to establish domicil.
. . . . .
"This is not to say that the defendants may not require each applicant to prove domicil. The defendants may ask each applicant a series of questions directed at proving domicil, but each applicant should be asked the same questions, and the questions should reasonably relate to proof of domicil."
In Shivelhood v. Davis, 336 F.Supp. 1111 (D.Vt.1971) the registrar was held to be applying an incorrect standard by requiring students to produce more persuasive evidence of their domicile than did other voter applicants. The registrar required of each registrant an intent to remain in Middlebury permanently, thus precluding most students, who were unable to state with 1256*1256 certainty where they would live upon completing their studies. The court said (336 F.Supp. at 1115):

"The fact that a student lives in a dormitory, is unmarried, is supported financially by his parents who live elsewhere, would be considered a minor in the state in which his parents live and occasionally visits his parents, even if all these factors occur together, is not alone sufficient to preclude domicile in the town in which the student attends school, although these factors may be considered together with other relevant evidence. Furthermore, although we do not imply that the Board has considered them to be relevant, we think it important to note that such factors as the lack of a Vermont driver's license or car registration are irrelevant unless the individual has a license or registration in another state.
. . . . .
"Thus, the Board of Civil Authority must not require students to fill out a supplemental questionnaire involving questions concerning their domicile unless all applicants are required to complete the same questionnaire. Moreover, the Board of Civil Authority must use its best efforts to insure that any questionnaire is equally relevant to all applicants and not designed only to apply to student applicants."
Ownby v. Dies, 337 F.Supp. 38 (E.D.Tex. 1971) involved Article 5.08(m) of the Texas Election Code, which provided for voting residency of persons under 21 years of age on a different basis than that applied to persons 21 years of age or over. Ownby, supra, is in effect an agreed judgment in which the State of Texas agreed with the plaintiffs that Article 5.08(m) violated the plaintiff's rights under the 14th and 26th Amendments.

The litigation to make genuine the guarantees of the 26th Amendment was not limited to the federal courts. The Supreme Court of California decided Jolicoeur v. Mihaly, 5 Cal.3d 565, 96 Cal.Rptr. 697, 488 P.2d 1 (Aug. 27, 1971) decreeing that newly enfranchised young people in California, residing apart from their parents, should be treated like other voters for the purpose of acquiring voting residence and should not be presumed to reside with their parents. Voting registrars of five major counties in California declined to register students on the basis of a California Attorney General's opinion concluding that for voting purposes the residence of an unmarried minor would normally be his parents' home. The plaintiffs sought from the court a decree directing the various registrars to register them in accordance with the same procedures and qualifications followed with respect to adult registrants. The Supreme Court of California granted relief, reasoning that to compel students to travel to the homes of their parents, or to compel them to vote absentee burdened their right to vote, and thus abridged that right in contravention of the 26th Amendment.

The California Supreme Court enjoined the defendants from treating students in a manner different from other voter registrants primarily on the basis of a detailed and comprehensive review of the legislative history of Title III of the Voting Rights Act of 1970 and the 26th Amendment. The California Supreme Court said (96 Cal.Rptr. at 703, 488 P.2d at 7):

"America's youth entreated, pleaded for, demanded a voice in the governance of this nation. On campuses by the hundreds, at Lincoln's Monument by the hundreds of thousands, they voiced their frustration at their electoral impotence and their love of a country which they believed to be abandoning its ideals. Many more worked quietly and effectively within a system that gave them scant recognition. And in the land of Vietnam they lie as proof that death accords youth no protected status. Their struggle for recognition divided a nation against itself. Congress and more than three-fourths of the states have now determined in their wisdom that youth `shall have a new birth of freedom' — the franchise. Rights won at the cost of so much individual and societal suffering may not and shall not be curtailed on the basis of 1257*1257 hoary fictions that these men and women are children tied to residential apron strings. Respondents' refusal to treat petitioners as adults for voting purposes violated the letter and spirit of the Twenty-Sixth Amendment."
The identical result was reached by the Supreme Court of New Jersey in Worden v. Mercer County Board of Elections, 61 N.J. 325, 294 A.2d 233 (1972). That court distinguished any earlier, inconsistent decisions by pointing out that earlier decisions were made "in relatively immobile areas when it was generally assumed that the college student would lead a semi-cloistered life with little or no interest in non-college community affairs and with the intent of returning on graduation to his parents' home and way of living. Such assumption, of course, has no current validity."

Well reasoned opinions by courts in Pennsylvania, Mississippi and Michigan have reached identical conclusions. See Sloane v. Smith, 351 F.Supp. 1299 (M.D.Pa.1972); Latham v. Chandler, 406 F.Supp. 754 (N.D. Miss.1976); Frazier v. Callicutt, 383 F.Supp. 15 (N.D.Miss.1974); Wilkins v. Bentley, 385 Mich. 670, 189 N.W.2d 423 (1971).

Ballas must be construed in the light of the foregoing authorities and also in the light of the very careful, limiting language of Judge Roney in Ballas. Ballas merely holds that on the record in that case, in which there was no proof of either racial discrimination or discrimination based on age, the use of the Symm form was constitutionally permissible so long as it did not abridge 26th Amendment rights to provide, by itself, the basis for a refusal of registration. Judge Roney carefully pointed out in Ballas that:

". . . The alleged harm is not in the denial of voter registration but in being required to answer the questionnaire. . . .
the cumulative effect of the answers is to support or fail to support the applicant's assertion of residency. It appears to be nothing more . . . There is no proof that the questionnaire was used as a device to prevent legal residents from voting."


We then read the following:

"In the case at bar, plaintiff does not challenge the Symm questionnaire per se, but alleges that in fact Mr. Symm has improperly denied voter registration to numerous students at Prairie View and that the Symm questionnaire was an integral step in the procedure involved in such denial. In addition, there is here both allegation and proof that the questionnaire was used as a part of a pattern of conduct in which Symm denied Prairie View students the right to vote or abridged such right by the application of a presumption declared unconstitutional in Whatley and in the other cases discussed above.

Conclusion of the Court>

Mr. Symm's forthright admission that he has, for many years, applied the unconstitutional presumption of Whatley establishes that the plaintiff is entitled to relief against Symm. Since Symm has, for a number of years (in the face of advice from the Secretary of State) continued to apply to the students of Prairie View an erroneous rule of law in making his factual determinations of residency, the court believes that a detailed injunction is appropriate and counsel are directed to prepare, and if possible agree upon, the form of an appropriate judgment.

Plaintiff has not on this record demonstrated that it is entitled to any relief against the County Commissioners of Waller County. While it could be inferred that the Court Commissioners of Waller County have taken official action on the incorrect assumption that virtually none of the students at Prairie View are properly classified as residents of Waller County, this fact is not established with definiteness and precision. In addition, this is not a redistricting case. Plaintiff has not sought redistricting. The question of the proper districting of Waller County is the subject matter of another suit, and thus the court at this time will deny relief against the County Commissioners of Waller County, except that the United States is given leave to reopen the factual record within thirty (30) days, to introduce additional evidence and present additional authorities relating to possible relief against the Waller County Commissioners in this case, if the United States believes that such relief is appropriate.

It appears from this record that the State of Texas, the Secretary of State of the State of Texas, and the Attorney General of Texas have taken all practicable steps within their command to encourage Mr. Symm to apply a correct rule of law and to protect the 14th, 15th and 26th Amendment rights of Prairie View dormitory students; therefore, no relief against the State of Texas, the Secretary of State of the State of Texas, or the Attorney General of Texas would appear appropriate.

The Clerk will forward true copies hereof to counsel of record who will draft and submit judgment accordingly.


Note - Robert - That it was not the decision of the court to throw the questionnaire - but the 'Whatley' Presumption of 'Non-Residence.

That was the problem with Mr. Symm - he presumed that all students were not residents.

RONALD RIML's picture

Not the jist of the Symm Case

Sorry, Robert; obviously you haven't read the 'Symm' Case.

The case which Scotus affirmed without opining on is United States v. State of Texas, 445 F. Supp. 1245 - Dist. Court, SD Texas 1978

Now go through that case and show us where it revolved around the mere 'employment' of a questionnaire as you allege.

You'll find that Symm had more skin in the game than that.

RONALD RIML's picture

Of course you do, Robert


You've greatly succeeded in displaying your utter lack of depth in comprehending this case.

Studens right to vote

How right you are Mark, the fraud they want to committis to supress voters who do not agree with their right wing extremism,. butinstead believe in human deceny!

Jason Theriault's picture

School year > Vacation time

The students spend more time here than at "home". Why shouldn't they be able to vote here?


People from" away"?

How will you define people from "away"? It is not fair to single out college students because you think they will not vote for you. So do we count people who spend half the year in the South as from "away'? What if your address is in Maine but your work keeps you away say if you are in the military. Does that make you from "away"? What if you moved in last month. You are probably not all that familiar with issues. Are you from "away'? What if you are moving away? You will not be "living with the consequences" . Just think of how many people we could disenfranchise with this notion. It is a Republican dream come true.

Allisa Milliard's picture

i think that the people that

i think that the people that live here should be the ones to decide what they get. people from other states that are here for a few months a year then go "home", should not be able to vote in state elections since they don't have to live with the consequeces. i think that same day registration is ok, but that the state voting laws should be changed to deter "from away" people from deciding state elections. in the past 30 years, look at the way our lives have changed and what party has been in power since the allowence of same day registration and "every part time non resident gets a voice". i think that the laws should empower those that live here full time since those are the people that live with the consequences.

ERNEST LABBE's picture

Mark why

Mark why is it that your side cannot make a comment on anything without name calling? Could it be sign that you deep down know your wrong?

Jim Cyr's picture

Right to vote

Nice SPIN on SYMMS there Mr. Bilodeau. The court ruling was on "the questionnaire" violating the 23rd. The "SPIN" disease is among us in droves!

RONALD RIML's picture

Nice try - But no Cigar

Symm referenced the 26th - not the 23rd Amendment as you state.....

Did you happen to read the Supreme Court's written majority decision on Symm? One word: "Affirmed"

Scotus reviewed the decision of a three Judge Federal Court Panel in the Case of United States v. State of Texas, 445 F. Supp. 1245 - Dist. Court, SD Texas 1978

There's a lot more to it than a mere 'questionnaire' Jim - as much as you like to put the spin on that. By affirming that Court's decision, the Supremes effectively recognized the Constitutional right of students to claim residency where they went to school, comparably to military personnel claiming residency where they were stationed.

Jim Cyr's picture

Purpose of the questionnaire?

I have no idea and it is not important to me as the actual ruling that it violates the 23rd. And the "Supremes" did not mention "effectively", that's your "SPIN". I stand by my interpretation of the ruling on the questionnaire. I never said it restricted anyone's right to vote. The ruling of the court was straight and narrow as it usually is!

RONALD RIML's picture


You obviously never read the original ruling I posted. It never mentions the 23rd Amendment.

It does state: "Authorities Relating to 26th Amendment Allegations"

How do you interpret what you've never read? Osmosis??

Jim Cyr's picture

My Bad

I just missed it and called it 23rd when I do know it to be the26th. My bad but it still remains a questionnaire violates the 26th.! No "SPIN" in that!!

RONALD RIML's picture

Sure Jim

Anything you say. It's only the questionnaire and nothing else. You are the undeniable expert on all things regarding this case. We all bow before your unshakable faith in your own incontrovertible expertise and knowledge even when presented with the vagaries of reality.

Oh, we of little faith!!!

RONALD RIML's picture

And the 'purpose' of the questionnaire?

Mr. Cyr???

Mark Wrenn's picture


"wise Republicans" don't exist.


Wise Republicans ...

... Are right in front of you, Mark, trying to make it impossible to vote for anyone who is ineligible to vote. If an out-of-state student is properly registered (ahead of time), he is eligible and no one will stand in his way. And unless he is disabled, he doesn't need a van ride to the polls. Let him show some civic responsibility and drag himself to town hall.

The exercise of democracy in America is more than a free ride + a sandwich + a $5 bill and a list of things to vote for, so you don't have to think.

Jason Theriault's picture

The problem is

That the three day advanced registration seems to be purely a barrier to voting. It serves no other purpose but to limit those who vote. Now, if there was a purpose served by cutting off registrations, I wouldn't have as much a problem with it. But there is no way they can detect any type of fraudulent registration in that time.


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