University of Maine at Orono students and community members are ensuring college students have the opportunity to vote early in the town’s municipal election since it will be held during spring break when most people will be off campus.
On Tuesday, March 14, Orono voters will elect four people to the Town Council and school board. Three candidates are running for two three-year terms on Orono’s Town Council, and three people are vying for two three-year terms in the RSU 26 school board. More information on all of the candidates can be found on the town’s website.
While UMaine classes will be paused and dormitories will be closed on Election Day, the university’s more than 11,000 students, many of whom live in Orono, could sway the town’s municipal election results if large numbers cast their ballots.
Orono has 3,668 registered voters between the ages of 18 and 25, according to the Maine secretary of state’s office.
Orono’s annual municipal election in March typically draws fewer than 1,000 voters, making up a meager percentage of the town’s registered voters. The town’s March 2021 municipal election drew 851 people, just 7 percent of Orono’s 11,086 registered voters. In March 2020, only 550 of 10,857 registered voters cast their ballots.
Tristin Friend, a UMaine sophomore studying political science, said many students forgo voting in local elections and only cast their ballots in more prominent contests such as presidential and gubernatorial elections.
Dillion Leeman, a UMaine freshman and chair of the school’s Political Activism Committee, said he cast his first ballot in Orono last November and plans to vote early in the local election this week.
“I think voting is a privilege that we have, so we might as well use it,” Leeman said. “We have the unique opportunity to vote in the simplest form of town government, so why not have a say in picking the people who make decisions on things that directly affect you.”
Chase Empsall, a junior political science major and member of the UMaine College Republicans, said he votes in Orono’s elections, but is disheartened by the town’s typically low voter turnout. Empsall said low turnout hinders a local government’s ability to make decisions based on the will of residents.
“Voting is representation — it shows what we believe in and gives students a say in their local government,” Friend said. “Unfortunately, if we don’t go out and vote, it hurts our ability to be represented and college students feel they aren’t being heard or are ignored.”
Orono’s charter sets the annual municipal election on the second Tuesday of March each year. But the Town Council can move the date to align with a state or federal election if it’s held within 30 days of the second Tuesday of March, according to Town Manager Sophie Wilson.
Wilson said that in late 2021 the town councilors considered changing Orono’s municipal election to coincide with either the state or federal elections in June or November. Ultimately, the council decided not to change the election date because UMaine students wouldn’t be present during a June election and the municipal election may get lost amid federal, state and county races in November.
Orono voters can still cast an absentee ballot at Orono’s town office before 5:30 p.m. Thursday, March 9.
All Orono voters can attend an early voting event from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 8, at Tacorita in Orono. All Orono candidates are welcome to attend to provide campaign information.
A bus will give students rides to the Orono town office on Thursday, March 9. Students will be picked up at the Memorial Union on the UMaine campus at 12, 2 and 4 p.m.