Last year’s midterm election season saw historic accounts of voter suppression. In addition to measures in the South, seen by many as racially charged, college students who cast their vote in the state of the academic institution they attend had to jump through hoops just to register.

Attempted suppression of voters not only denies students their franchise, it undermines the purposes of federalism, designed by the nation’s founders to solve national problems. Young voices must be heard electorally. Their votes must count.

Patricia Crimmins

Attempted voter suppression has a history in Lewiston. In 2016, fliers exhorting out-of-state students against voting in Maine turned up at Bates College. That year, then-Gov. Paul LePage defended the distribution of fliers due to fears that out-of-state students were committing voter fraud by casting multiple votes.

In 2018, Shane Bouchard, Lewiston’s mayor at the time, wrote a letter to new Maine voters informing them of the “duties and responsibilities” that accompany their participation in Lewiston’s civic life. Bouchard’s dissuasive letter was also delivered to Bates students.

The 2016 incidence of attempted suppression was cited in the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2018 (S.3279) — a bill introduced in the Senate last year.

One solution to concerns about “out-of-state” student-voters would be to require them to vote via absentee ballot in their home state for the duration of their college career. However, doing so would bypass the positive impact of an interstate electoral exchange rooted in federalism.

One of the purposes of federalism is to preserve freedom under two overlapping governing bodies: individual state and federal governments. Because Americans are citizens of both the state in which they reside and the nation, state governments directly serve their residents and the federal government simultaneously legislates on behalf of its constituents nationwide. State governments and the federal government strategically divide and share governing authority so the potential for an overarching, tyrannical national government is subverted.

In retired Supreme Court Associate Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy’s concurrence in United States v. Lopez, 514 US 549 (1995), they explain that principles of federalism can be applied to utilize states as “policy labs” to solve problems which each state faces.

Essentially, O’Connor and Kennedy posited that state governments might attempt 50 distinct ways to solve a problem they each face. If one state were successful in solving a national problem, other states might adopt similar legislation. In this way, the court saw the potential of the separative facet of federalism: such policy labs encouraged innovation.

In practice, state legislation to fix national problems is created by state lawmakers elected by their local constituents. For example, though a majority of Americans struggle with access to fresh produce, Maine’s Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program works to solve nutritional deficiencies exclusively for residents in the state.

In contrast, “federal” problems are policy challenges that cannot be solved by state governments alone. Those sorts of problems require legislation that, depending on congressional constitutional authority, is applied to every state. Think of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was passed by lawmakers elected federally.

Federalism is preserved by distinguishing between problems that are experienced by all states that can be solved by the states and problems that are faced by all states that must be dealt with through legislation passed by the federal government. Federal and state governments can attempt to solve problems within their respective purview.

Because out-of-state students have experience living in two states, they have a different perspective on state policy. Their politics are shaped by the policies in their home state, their college or university’s state, and the nation at large. Therefore, just as the federal and state governments collaborate to solve the nation’s problems, out-of-state students can have a unique, civic influence on policy matters that are the responsibility of individual states.

The diversity in the political views of out-of-state students influences state policy in Maine and Maine’s contribution to the federal political climate. Simultaneously, students from Maine who now vote in other states are influencing the state policies and federal contributions of other states as well.

As dictated by federalism, we are citizens of both the nation and the state in which we reside. But the latter form of citizenship is transient and we certainly shouldn’t be barred from seeking new residency across state lines.

That transiency supports federalism: as eligible voters move from state to state and register in new locations, they influence state policy through a more federal, greater perspective. When students vote in their states of current, academic residency, policy ideas intermingle.

Each state can truly be a policy lab as heterogeneous political ideologies blend to form a constantly evolving nation dynamically serving its inhabitants.

Patricia Crimmins is a senior at Bates College in Lewiston majoring in politics.


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