A bill proposed in the Maine State Legislature would grant in-state tuition to any student registered to vote in the state of Maine.
LD 64, “An Act to Ensure In-state Tuition for Postsecondary Students Who Are Registered to Vote in the State,” doesn’t have a fiscal note just yet, but when it does, the number could threaten to blow a hole in the UMaine system’s budget.
“If a student is going to be allowed to vote in Maine and therefore a citizen of Maine, they should qualify for in-state tuition,” said Rep. Shelly Rudnicki (R-Fairfield), the sponsor of the bill.
Maine’s college student voters have long provided an advantage to the Maine Democratic Party, which regularly works with campus groups to facilitate voter registrations and Election Day transports for a population of voters that disproportionately votes left.
In towns like Portland and Orono, large college campuses can reliably be counted on to churn out a huge number of voters, many of whom are not full-time residents in the state of Maine.
Due to a quirk of the law, these students have not been required to vote absentee in their home states, but they are instead allow to declare that their temporary dormitories are in fact their legal addresses. The result is a massive number of young people who don’t live, work, or pay taxes in Maine full-time get to vote on Maine’s ballot initiatives and for Democratic candidates for office.
The bill wouldn’t affect Maine’s private colleges, like Bowdoin, Bates or Colby, but it would be a massive blow to the public university system.
The difference between in-state tuition and out-of-state tuition is massive.
UMaine Orono, for example, says total annual tuition plus room and board for a Maine resident in the 2022-2023 is $27,412. For an out-of-state student, the cost is $49,552.
Rudnicki’s bill, if passed, could potentially mean 40 percent or more of the UMaine student body could cut their tuition bills in half merely by registering to vote in Maine.
For the UMaine system, that would mean a drop in revenue worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The proposal isn’t likely to get very far in Augusta, where Democrats hold both Houses of the Legislature.
Rudnicki’s colleagues across the aisle probably won’t be eager to have a conversation about why Maine lets out-of-state students vote in Maine’s elections, especially considering many of them owe their election victories in part to college freshmen they’ve never met, and never will.