The University of Maine and other college campuses around the state might play an important role in the passage or rejection of Question 1 in November, according to opponents of the referendum.
Question 1 seeks to repeal L.D. 1020, An Act To End Discrimination in Civil Marriage and Affirm Religious Freedom, which the Maine Legislature passed in May and Gov. John Baldacci signed. A yes on Question 1 would eliminate same-sex marriage in Maine.
Organizations on both sides of the issue have diverse operations that include phone banks and canvassing. Perhaps the biggest difference between the operation of the campaigns is that while the No on 1 campaign, led by Protect Maine Equality, has actively courted college students, the Yes on 1 campaign has not.
At a gathering on Oct. 8, community organizers from No on 1 talked about ways to get UMaine students to vote. The organizers asked students to talk to their peers about voting.
According to organizers, the strategies focus on getting college students to vote instead of persuading people to change their position on same-sex marriage. The organizers said 270,000 people need to vote “no” on Question 1 for it to fail.
Rachel Rier, a fourth-year math student at UMaine, spoke of her experience approaching students on the mall. Rier said she “was really nervous at first,” but got over her initial apprehension. “You’re just starting conversations. You’re not trying to persuade people,” Rier said. “You’re just talking to people who already care.”
Another method, which the No on 1 campaign calls “class raps,” involves students talking to classes about Question 1. Aimee Martin, an organizer for No on 1, told attendees that class raps are one of the most effective ways of getting the message out, because the students are a captive audience.
“They have to sit and listen,” Martin said.
Martin and her fellow organizers refused to talk to the press, saying they were not allowed to do so. Some refused to provide their names.
Mark Sullivan, communications director for No on 1, said every college campus in Maine has an active student base opposing Question 1.
“Young people get this issue. It’s something I think many young people feel very passionately about,” Sullivan said.
Paul Hogarth traveled to Maine from California to volunteer for No on 1 as part of its Volunteer Vacation program, under which people take time off from work to volunteer for the campaign. He’s worked on political campaigns for 13 years and thinks college students could be the demographic that gives No on 1 the votes it needs.
“This is going to be an incredibly close election that’s going to come down to a very small handful of voters, and if students at the University of Maine turn out and vote — and we expect most students to be against Question 1 — that they could be the margin of victory for defending marriage equality in Maine,” Hogarth said.
Scott Fish, communications director for Yes on 1, seemed to agree. Unlike No on 1’s network of college organizers, Yes on 1 has not worked to woo college voters, and Fish did not know if any of Maine’s college campuses had a student group working for Yes on 1.
Representatives from both sides of Question 1 were scheduled to debate on the UMaine campus Oct. 8, but Yes on 1 decided Oct. 6 not to attend.
“Statistically, going in front of college students doesn’t make the most sense,” Fish said. He said in a truncated campaign such as with Question 1, “Do we appear on a television debate, do we appear on MPBN — all of which we’re doing — or do we appear in smaller forums, especially where the audience is statistically not going to be voting yes on 1? I think common sense just gives you the answer to that question.”
Hogarth said Yes on 1’s strategy could stem from not wanting to raise awareness of the election in young adults.
“It is really not in the interest of the Yes on 1 campaign to have young people vote,” Hogarth said. “The more exposure, the more outreach there is on campus from ideally both sides the more awareness there is that there’s an election, and the more likely students are to vote. And so, I would guess that what Yes on 1 is doing is that they’re trying to avoid engaging the campus, because that will just get more awareness that there’s an election.”
The UMaine chapter of College Democrats has been active against Question 1, according to its president, Joseph Nabozny. Although referendum questions are nonpartisan, Maine’s College Democrats voted to condemn Questions 1, 2 and 4, according to the President of Maine College Democrats and UMaine student Benjamin Goodman. If passed, Question 2 would reduce the excise tax, and Question 4 would force the state to get approval by referendum for increases in state spending and state taxes.
Nabozny said the College Democrats have distributed No on 1 materials and worked to educate the student body about the other questions. Representatives for the College Republicans were unable to be reached, but Nabozny said he was not aware of any work on the part of College Republicans in support of Question 1.
Hogarth said he’s seen a large difference in the way Maine’s Yes on 1 and California’s No on Proposition 8 campaigns have been conducted.
“I’m incredibly critical about how the No on 8 campaign in California screwed up that election,” Hogarth said. “I think it was theirs to lose, and they blew it.”
“I have volunteered on political campaigns for 13 years, and I would tell you that the two campaigns that have impressed me the most are Barack Obama and No on 1 here in Maine,” Hogarth said. “It’s been a very heartening experience for me to be here, because I see them learning from a lot of the mistakes we made in California.”
Hogarth said college students are often disenfranchised in states such as California, which don’t allow people to register to vote on Election Day as Maine does. Maine allows in-person absentee voting as well, which lets voters cast their ballots before Election Day.
Hogarth said voters in Portland, where he initially volunteered, seemed more willing to vote early than voters in Bangor.
“A lot of voters, especially older people, were basically telling me ‘No, no, no, I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to wait. I like going into the polling place on Election Day,’ and they’re kind of a little bit more stubborn, I’d say,” Hogarth said.