Colby students have been voting using their Mayflower Hill mailing address for years. I know because I’ve helped them do it.

2012 was an interesting year. The Republican-appointed secretary of state had given directions to town clerks that made it more difficult for people to vote — college students in particular. I was an organizer. With a handful of Colby students, and all of us armed with a deep belief that we all do better when as many people as possible can participate in their democracy, we talked to the Waterville city clerk and a compromise was born.

Colby students and resident faculty would be allowed to register to vote with their Mayflower Hill mailing address. To satisfy the secretary of state’s directions regarding proof of residency, the town would be provided with a printed copy of Colby residents and their Mayflower Hill address numbers. They don’t get mail addressed to their residence hall and room number, so signing up for a scammy credit card or paying a fee to have their phone bill delivered won’t now and wouldn’t then have resolved a physical address residency requirement. Now is not the time to talk about how difficult we make it for people to vote for nothing in return. In the end, Colby voters didn’t have to jump through six hoops to exercise a constitutional right.

Was this the wrong way to register anyone living at Colby? Perhaps. The astonishing fact is that it took six years for anyone to complain, and it came only because of deliberately stoked anti-Colby sentiment coming out of a clear failure of leadership.

For two years, I provided City Hall with a printed copy of the student addresses, paying the costs out of pocket. Then, when I emailed to ask when City Hall would like a new directory, I was told the information could be found in Colby’s online student directory and I no longer needed to copy and paste 26 webpages — one for each letter of the alphabet — into a Word document and print it off; City Hall staff would just look it up themselves and take a laptop when they went to assist with registration.

And so Colby residents registered and voted. And registered and voted. When the new dorm building went up downtown, the 200 students and resident faculty living there registered with a different address than their fellows on Mayflower Hill. Anyone living on Mayflower Hill registered to vote with their Mayflower Hill address in the same way as they had been doing for years.

This year, and only this year, their registrations were challenged. A lot has been said by our mayor and his supporters about Colby students’ ineptitude in registering, but I can tell you, with full confidence, that Colby students and resident faculty registered to vote in good faith, and within the bounds of the system that had been in place for years.

To suggest that there is anything nefarious going on in permitting these ballots is inexcusable and this disenfranchisement should be condemned on all sides. The will of the residents has not yet been honored, and it will not be honored until all votes are counted.

Nobody is trying to re-register or get a do-over on their registrations. In registering once already, Colby students and resident faculty have already signed and sworn that they are residents of the city of Waterville and are thus entitled to exercise their constitutional right to vote. Part of that right includes the right to correct mistakes in their registration.

But let’s not get caught up in nuances when judges can be involved. This issue is going to wind up in a courtroom, where much will be made about the use of Mayflower Hill addresses and how that should automatically disenfranchise Colby voters.

Far less, I think, will be said about the willingness and eagerness of Colby students to vote. How many have showed up at City Hall to state their residence hall and room number in the time since the challenged ballots were made public and today? Nobody is challenging that Colby students and resident faculty live on Mayflower Hill, unless I’m missing the argument and somehow Colby students and resident faculty live outside the space-time continuum. In that case, yes, their ballots shouldn’t count.

But why allow simple misunderstandings to be corrected when you can instead strip the rights of almost 200 people and claim they don’t really live here? That, I don’t have the answer to. Perhaps the court will.

Rien Finch lives in Waterville. He was formerly the chairman of the Waterville Democratic City Committee.

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