University of Maine students are being urged to vote early as Orono’s annual municipal election is on March 14, 2023, which aligns directly with UMaine’s spring break for students, faculty and staff. This could impact nearly half of Orono’s electorate from participating in an election that already struggles to get the Orono community involved.
Voter turnout is traditionally low for the March municipal election. Over the last 20 years it has averaged a little over 6%.
“The annual town council election takes place during UMaine spring break, which means there are hardly any students on campus due to dorms being closed,” said Dillon Leeman, first-year student and Chair of the Political Activism Committee at UMaine. “Unfortunately for Orono, a significant number of registered voters fall among college-aged citizens.”
Over spring break — which goes from March 10 to 19 — students often travel or are sent home due to the closing of residence halls. Nearly half of the voters in Orono with an active registration status were under 25 years old at the start of 2022 and more than 300 Orono voters are on the faculty or employed at UMaine.
Candidates are starting to bring attention to this growing concern. Orono Town Council candidate and former University of Maine and Maine System leader Dan Demeritt is trying to encourage the UMaine community registered in Orono to vote before leaving town for spring break.
Demeritt spoke with the UMaine Student Senate on Feb. 21, trying to raise awareness about the upcoming election and encourage student engagement in Orono’s municipal elections.
“The timing of our municipal election was set more than 50 years ago,” Demeritt said. “I want to help bring Orono together to decide if an expensive, low-turnout March election is the right fit for our college town.”
The municipal election has always been on the second Tuesday of March and the low turnout could be correlated to the timing.
“This absolutely reduces the turnout rate for Orono municipal elections,” said Mark Brewer, professor and interim chair of the department of political science at UMaine. “However, the ease of early voting and absentee voting in Maine mitigates this concern somewhat.”
Orono voters have the option to cast an in-person absentee ballot at the Orono Town Office before March 9, 2023. However, students are traditionally less involved in this election.
“Many students do not consider the municipality where they attend school to be their permanent residence, so they are less likely to vote in those local elections,” Brewer said. “Some of the biggest issues in many local elections — schools and property taxes — don’t really affect college students, or only affect them indirectly.”
The November 2022 general election recorded 1,160 registered voters for the town of Orono.
Demeritt wants to encourage the UMaine community to take advantage of casting an in-person absentee ballot. He is hosting an Early Voting Reminder event for all Orono voters at Tacorita on Wednesday, March 8.
“Governing should bring us together,” Demeritt said. “I urge all UMaine students, staff and faculty to vote with us before leaving town for spring break.”
Demeritt is inviting all candidates for municipal office to attend and provide campaign materials, and the event will run from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Other candidates are trying to encourage the community to vote early as well. Write-in candidate Sarah Marx is hosting a Vote Party Bus event on March 9. The bus leaves Memorial Union at noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Thursday.
Registered voters can vote early at the Town Offices Monday to Thursday 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. until March 9.