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  • Maine officials respond to falsehoods about college student voting rights

    Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, Maine’s chief elections official, is reminding college students and others in Maine that their right to vote is not constrained by other obligations involved in establishing residency in Maine. 

    "Every American citizen has the right to vote. Establishing residency for the purpose of voting carries with it no association to paying fees or taxes -- you don’t pay for a right,” said Dunlap. Residency obligations in Maine, such as vehicle registration and driver’s licensure, are administered separately from the elections process.

    Secretary Dunlap is seeking to educate voters in the wake of misleading flyers (below) distributed at Bates College in Lewiston yesterday, which stated that students who vote in Maine must pay hundreds of dollars to switch their vehicle registrations and licenses in order to vote. These flyers seek to dissuade citizens from voting out of a fear of legal and financial repercussions. 

    “It says a great deal that these flyers have been distributed with no attribution as to who paid for them or who is responsible for their content -- which is illegal,” said Dunlap. “Attempting to prevent American citizens from participating in their democratic process of self-governance through intimidation and fear is shameful, and it should be treasonable.” 

    Governor LePage said, “Casting ballots in two different states is voter fraud, which is why Maine law requires anyone voting here to establish residency here. We welcome college students establishing residency in our great state, as long as they follow all laws that regulate voting, motor vehicles and taxes. We cannot tolerate voter fraud in our state.”

    Governor Paul LePage’s statement this morning, which underscores the message in these flyers, ignores the fact that the public policies around driver’s licenses, vehicle registrations and taxes are not related to anyone exercising their right to vote, and pose no barrier to the citizen.

    “It’s very clear here that the Governor is trying to keep college students from turning out to vote in Maine. There are already fliers going around giving students false information about their right to vote here—the Governor should be calling out these lies rather than bolstering them," said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. “In Maine, we’ve always been proud to have some of the highest voter participation rates in the country.  And students—whether they are from Maine or are residents while they attend school—have been a big part of that. They have a clearly established legal right to vote in our state if they choose to do. Their participation in our civic process is something we should encourage, not discourage.”

    “Sadly, his statements only inflame an atmosphere of doubt and fear among the voters. I think it speaks loudly to how powerful the individual right to vote is when there are those who would keep citizens from wielding it,” said Dunlap.  "Whether an individual obtains a Maine driver’s license or not has no impact on their ability to exercise their right to vote.

    “The governor’s statement seems designed to make college students afraid to vote. Voter intimidation and harassment is illegal, and we call on the Department of Justice to investigate the intent of the governor’s comments," said Zachary Heiden, legal director at the ACLU of Maine. “College students who live in Maine have the right to vote in Maine, and they are not subject to different laws than anyone else. Many of these young people are voting for the first time in a presidential election. The governor should be encouraging that civic participation, not doing everything in his power to undermine it.”

    Maine Attorney General Janet T. Mills has issued the following statement in response to questions about voting requirements for people in Maine. 

    “No one should feel that they cannot vote if they are a citizen of the United States, if they are 18 years of age or older and if they are a resident of Maine for however short or long a time.  Whether you just retired here, whether you are living with family, whether you are here  looking for work, or whether you are taking classes here, the requirements for residency in Maine are straightforward and uncomplicated and not related to stricter requirements for licenses, car registrations or tuition. No one should fear financial consequences for exercising their constitutional right to vote.  There are no financial penalties, and it is shameful that anyone would suggest otherwise. I call upon leaders and candidates of all parties to disavow efforts of any sort to intimidate and disenfranchise voters.  We should encourage every citizen to exercise his or her constitutional right to vote tomorrow,” said Maine Attorney General Janet T. Mills.

    For more information about declaring residency to vote in the State of Maine, visit the Maine Department of the Secretary of State website.

     

  • March against cuts to General Assistance for asylum seekers and refugees in Portland, Maine

     Photo of rally to protect General Assistance for asylum seekers and refugees by City Councilor Jon Hinck

    By Ramona du Houx

    On May 21st, more than 700 people marched and rallied against proposed cuts to General Assistance for asylum seekers and refugees in Maine. Portland's community showed overwhemengly support.

    "Great to see many new immigrants from all over Maine gather in Portland with pride in the banner 'We Are Maine.' So true! So positive!" expressed Portland City Councilor Jon Hinck at the rally.

    For the thousands of immigrants who have come to Maine to escape persecution in their home countries, General Assistance is the only lifeline they receive while they navigate a broken immigration system and wait for authorization to work. According to federal law they can not work until they are authorized thus leaving them no option but to apply for General Assistance.

    Over 700 people came together to send a strong message to lawmakers in Augusta that they "won't stand for policies that discriminate and force families out of their homes and onto the streets."

    Studies show that asylum seekers and refugees create businessess that add to Maine's economic growth once they are settled and confortable in their new home. But the language barrier is great. It takes time, community understanding, and continued general assistance. Immigrants built America. These immigrants are already helping to make Maine more diverse adding new resturants and shops in Portland and beyond.

    Cities and towns administer General Assistance, but the state provides a major share of the program’s funding. Portland and Westbrook have joined the Maine Municipal Association in a lawsuit challenging the LePage administration’s policies to cut off General Assistance funding to municipalities that allow undocumented immigrants to receive aid.

    “We didn’t come here like visitors; we came here because we had no choice,” said Pitshou Banguninga origionaly from the Congo. “When we came here, we had nothing. We don’t want to be put on the street.”

    Speakers at the march included Rachael Talbot Ross, of the NAACP, officials and people directly impacted by the policies of Gov. LePage or Maine.