By Rob Roper
Every year about this time people start asking how it is that college students who are not from here get to have disproportionate impacts on local elections. Are they really allowed to vote in our elections? Shouldn’t they be voting in their home towns in other states, or even in their home towns in Vermont? According to the law, it depends.
Vermont law defines a resident eligible to vote as: “A natural person who is domiciled in the State as evidenced by an intent to maintain a principal dwelling place in the State indefinitely and to return there when temporarily absent, coupled with an act or acts consistent with that intent.”
College students are natural persons, and they are considered legally domiciled in the state – they sleep here more than six months of the year — which could allow them to vote in Vermont. But the students must also show evidence of “an intent to maintain a principal dwelling place in the state indefinitely,” which means that they must show in some demonstrable way that they do not intend to leave Vermont after graduation. Vermont election officials do not enforce this aspect of the law.
If the student does not intend, and/or cannot provide evidence of that intent, to remain in Vermont “indefinitely,” he or she would fall under the category described in the law of being “temporarily absent” from their principal domicile, such as their parents’ home out-of-state. “Acts consistent with this intent” would be things like returning home for vacations when school is not in session. If this is the case, the student should not be allowed on a Vermont voter list and should be voting back home, not here.
Although we would certainly like young people who come to Vermont for their higher education to stay here indefinitely, we know for a fact that the overwhelming majority of them don’t stay, nor do they intend to. A recent study by UVM discovered that 70 percent of Vermont college students either actively intend to leave Vermont after graduation (40 percent) or have no intention whatsoever (30 percent) about remaining. Only 30 percent of students have some or a likely intention to stay. As such, merely attending college in Vermont should not be seen as evidence of intent to remain indefinitely.
What would be evidence of intent to remain? Maybe getting a Vermont drivers license, opening a Vermont based bank account, or remaining and working in Vermont during summer vacations. But, again, Vermont election officials from the secretary of state on down do not enforce this aspect of election law. Why? You’ll have to ask them.