Southern Maine Community College students will join hundreds of thousands of other Mainers who will cast their votes in the Nov. 6 election.

On this year’s ballot, Mainers will vote on races for federal, state and local positions, from the U.S. Senate down to town councils. They will also vote on five referendums: four bond questions and one citizen initiative.

Question 5 on the ballot hits close to home for Maine’s community colleges and our students. It asks: “Do you favor a $15,000,000 bond issue to improve educational programs by upgrading facilities at all 7 of Maine’s community colleges in order to provide Maine people with access to high-skill, low-cost technical and career education?”

This is the first time since 2013 that voters will be able to vote on critical investments at all of the state’s community colleges. Of the $15 million total, $4.2 million is targeted for SMCC. SMCC’s share would fund facility repairs and improvements; invest in energy efficiencies; renovate and expand spaces for student and academic support; upgrade the college’s technology infrastructure; and upgrade instructional and library services.

Will Chabot, a Liberal Studies major who serves on the SMCC Student Senate, says it’s vitally important for students not only to vote, but also to educate themselves on the candidates and the issues they’ll be voting on. “Educated voting” lets people know their voice has power and why it has power, he said.

“It’s important to be informed on government happenings and issues on the ballot because they can affect you,” he said. “If it’s on the ballot that SMCC could get $4 million, that would directly benefit us.”

In the lead-up to Election Day, dozens of SMCC students have registered to vote as part of a registration initiative organized by the Student Senate. The Student Senate is now spreading the word to let students know where they can vote, while also organizing transportation for those who need a way to get to the polling places.

It’s key that our students — many of whom will vote for the first time this election — exercise their right to have their voices heard.

By voting, Chabot says, students will have a say in how government runs and what the state’s priorities should be. Those are things that affect Mainers day in and day out.

“Expressing your opinion is all good, but when it comes down to it, voting is how you get things done,” he says.

Question 5 is a smart investment for jobs and education. Maine’s community colleges provide a high-quality affordable education that gives people high-demand skills to fill good-paying jobs in Maine that can’t be filled now because there aren’t enough skilled workers to fill them.

Our graduates are everywhere and form the foundation of Maine’s economy. They are nurses, police officers, IT professionals, plumbers, electricians, teachers, accountants, firefighters, precision machinists, chefs, automotive technicians and more.

I encourage everybody — including our SMCC students — to cast your ballots on Election Day. Make your voice heard.

Joe Cassidy is the president of Southern Maine Community College.

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