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Vote yes on Article 1 this Tuesday

Tomorrow, the voters of the Orono municipality will head to the polls to determine their preferences on several issues: first, their selection in the primary elections for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations; second, their choice in the three open seats for Orono Town Council; and finally, and perhaps most consequentially for future generations of UMaine students, whether or not Orono should shift its municipal election dates to November. 

Currently, Orono’s elections were held in mid-March, during (or, as of a 2023 rules change, just before) UMaine’s Spring Break. With such a low percentage of students remaining on-campus or in Orono itself during this period, this restricted student turnout and effectively disenfranchised the student body. 

Indeed, turnout in Orono municipal elections has shown a worrying trend in its consistently low percentage over the past five years. While 2021, 2022, and 2023 elections all saw roughly 7% turnout, the 2020 municipal races featured a 5% turnout—just one-twentieth of all Orono residents. In 2019, only 3% of Orono voters arrived at the polls. The year before, a breathtakingly low 2% of Orono voters showed up. While turnout has grown to about 7% in the previous three years, this disappointingly low number is still indicative of major barriers that prevent Orono students from fully exercising their suffrage. While a 2023 initiative by the Orono Town Council aligned municipal election dates with the presidential primary, the election date remaining in March does not bode well for future turnout in Orono. November elections, comparatively, have consistently seen much higher turnout. Maine had a 35.8% turnout for its youth voters in the 2022 midterm elections, one of the highest rates in the entire country and indicative of a strong culture of lifelong political engagement in New England. 

Municipal elections have a considerable influence on students’ quality of life. Town policies in Orono can deeply affect a broad range of issues that impact students, from housing prices to town walkability to new retail locations that serve students and improve community bonds. Local elections are the best opportunity for residents of a municipality to make their thoughts on the town’s future heard. Still, such a paltry turnout means that these election results cannot possibly be representative of the general will of the Orono populace. 

With an uncompetitive primary in the presidential race featuring two unpopular candidates all but certain to win their respective nominations, turnout will likely remain relatively low despite the best efforts of organizing groups such as Orono Voices for Democracy. This, however, is not an election students should choose to ignore. Student voters in Orono should support the proposed change to Article 1 and take a greater role in asserting their right to affect change where they live.

Polls will be open from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. in the Council Chambers at 59 Main Street.

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