Ernest A. Canning, a California attorney and investigative reporter who blogs about voting issues across the nation, set Maine’s Secretary of State Charlie Summers in his sights Sunday, blasting Summers for a letter sent to 206 out-of-state students enrolled in Maine’s public colleges.
That letter, mailed on State of Maine letterhead two weeks ago, asked students to clarify their residency for purposes of voting and also — relying on Maine residency statute instead of the Symm vs U.S. residency standard for college students — requested that they all obtain a Maine driver’s license and register their motor vehicles, if owned, in Maine.
The deadline to comply is Oct. 20.
In his blog, Canning correctly pointed out that in 2008, a bill in the Maine Legislature that would have made it illegal for out-of-state college students to vote in the town where they are attending school was killed, because prohibiting such voting is already considered unconstitutional.
So, despite this years-old and very clear and public recognition that out-of-state college students can declare limited residency to vote, the GOP weirdly persists in pressuring out-of-state students to declare their residency in full.
Summers, well respected as a lawmaker, veteran and small business owner, basically told these 206 people — who chose to pursue a college education in Maine — to get a Maine license or don’t vote here.
That’s intimidating stuff.
These 206 students are the same 206 students that GOP Chairman Charlie Webster wrongly accused of election fraud. So, it’s not enough to point an accusatory finger at them each by name, now we have to bully them too?
Is that what Maine people want?
If Maine really wants the best and brightest students enrolled in our colleges, exercising their brainpower and ingenuity in our classrooms and assisting with our research and development, it makes absolutely zero sense to scare them away. Especially since, Democrats and Republicans alike, they’re following the long-settled law of the land.
Let’s take a look at how far we, as citizens, want to take this conflict of residency.
If all out-of-state students follow Summers’ instructions and obtain driver’s licenses here, abandoning their parents’ residences and practically declaring themselves emancipated, then on what date does the UMaine System refund their out-of-state tuition payments and charge them less-expensive in-state costs?
In the spring of 2011, the tuition and boarding fees for in-state students at Orono was set at $19,532 and the fees for out-of-state students was $35,252.
That’s a difference of $15,720 per student, or a refund of something north of $3 million for 206 out-of-state students.
If we, in all fairness, apply the same residency standard to every out-of-state student enrolled at the Orono campus alone, we’re talking about refunding nearly $30 million in tuition just last year, money that would have to be made up through tax dollars. That doesn’t account for millions more to be refunded by other public college campuses.
It would be impossible to predict the long-term financial burden of dropping out-of-state tuition fees if every student enrolled at school here is required to declare legal residency for all things.
But, we don’t have to do that because Symm settled this question of college student residency solely for the purposes of voter registration more than 32 years ago.
To be fair, there’s a lot of confusion around the issue. So much so that the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law developed a basic FAQ on “residency” and “domicile” for students in regard to voting in our 50 states.
In Maine, student residency — outside of the Symm voting standard — is determined through federal student aid filing address and tax returns of the student and/or parents. Where a student registers to vote does not affect that student’s federal financial aid award or a parent’s ability to claim that child as a dependent at the family domicile when filing income tax returns, nor does the address used when filing for federal student aid affect that student’s ability to register to vote in the town where they reside while attending school.
As wacky as it sounds, state laws — differing from state-to-state — have different rules for different kinds of residency. So, as the Brennan guide outlines, “you can end up being a resident for one purpose but not for another.”
That’s true in Maine, despite the very clear desire of Charlie Webster & Co. to fight against that truth.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.