Maine’s secretary of state Sunday denounced what he characterized as an effort to discourage students at Bates College from voting in Tuesday’s election.

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said a flier that began circulating Sunday on the Bates campus in Lewiston suggesting students would be required to register their motor vehicle and update their driver’s license in order to vote was false.

“Your status as a student is a neutral factor in exercising your right to vote,” Dunlap said Sunday night. “If you are residing in a community while matriculated as a student and wish to vote, you can do so.”

Dunlap explained that once individuals consider themselves to be residents of a community, they will eventually need to take steps, such as updating their driver’s license or registering their motor vehicle. But he added “there are no statutory triggers that take place that compel you to pay excise taxes immediately on your vehicle in that town.”

The Maine Democratic Party also weighed in on the controversy, referring to the Bates fliers in a news release Sunday evening as an attempt at “voter suppression.”

“The false information contained in these fliers is a deliberate attempt to suppress the millennial vote. There is nothing in Maine law that states that college students must change their driver’s licenses in order to vote,” Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett said. “In fact, the Secretary of State’s Office has made explicitly clear that a dorm can be a student’s legal voting residence and that paying out-of-state tuition does not preclude a student from voting.”


The flier, which was discovered Sunday by Bates student Sarah Frankie Sigman at the Commons, Bates’ dining hall, said those who choose to register to vote in Lewiston must pay to change their driver’s license and re-register their motor vehicle within 30 days – a process the flier’s author claims could cost a student “usually hundreds of dollars in total” when the cost of a state motor vehicle inspection is added in.

“Would like to call attention to the 30 plus disgusting signs my friends and I removed from the dining hall and the doors of a dorm this afternoon. If you see any more please take them down and if you see someone putting them up call Bates security,” Sigman wrote on her Facebook page. “You can register at the polls on Nov. 8 in Maine and Lewiston is a make or break district!”

Dunlap explained that voting in the election is entirely separate from registering a car or changing the address on one’s driver’s license.

“Voter registration is not affected by where you register your car,” Dunlap said in a telephone interview Sunday night. “This flier is pure politics. They’re using it to try to scare college kids from voting.”

He said that all a Maine college student who is not from the community where he or she attends school has to do to vote is to register with the local city or town clerk.

In the case of a Bates student, the student would register with the Lewiston city clerk, who in turn would notify the clerk in the student’s hometown that he or she had voted, eliminating what Dunlap called double dipping.


A voting residence fact sheet published by the Maine Secretary of State’s Office also lends clarity to the issue. It says college students have the right to register to vote in the municipality in Maine where they attend school.

“You can establish a voting residence at your Maine school address if you have a present intention to remain at that address for the time being, whether that address is a dorm, apartment, house or even a hotel,” the fact sheet says.

Kristen Muszynski, spokeswoman for the Maine Secretary of State’s Office, said in an email: “Students can choose to define their residency as either their school address or previous home address, whichever is the one they consider to best fit the definition of residency for their personal situation.”

Bates senior Ali Rabideau, from Natick, Massachusetts, has already voted in this year’s presidential election – in Lewiston.

Rabideau lived in Lewiston last summer and considers Bates and the city her home, at least for the time being.

Voter suppression “has been a trend for a while here – people trying to dissuade students from voting in an election. We’re pretty frustrated,” said Rabideau, who is co-president of the Bates College Democrats Club.


Jason Savage, executive director of the Maine Republican Party, said some people have unfairly accused Republicans on social media of being behind the fliers. Savage said that is just not true.

“It makes no sense to accuse us of doing it. It is coming out of left field,” Savage said. “People are throwing daggers at us and we had nothing to do with it.”

Savage said the flier’s claims are misleading.

“I don’t think anyone has to change their driver’s license to vote on Tuesday,” he said.


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