POUGHKEEPSIE – Bard College has been granted its appeal to move a polling place from a Red Hook church to the campus center at the college. Supreme Court Justice Maria Rosa overturned her own October 13 ruling which kept the voting location at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Red Hook.
A lawsuit filed by students and professors at Bard College sought to have a polling place moved from the church to the Bard College Campus Center. Dutchess County Republican Elections Commissioner Erik Haight argued against the change, saying that the move at such a late date would cause voter confusion just days before the November election. Supreme Court Judge Maria Rosa agreed with Haight on October 13 and declined to move the polling place.
Two days after the decision, the Dutchess County Board of Elections (BOE) announced that two other polling places in Red Hook were being relocated. Bard College appealed the judge’s previous ruling. In the previous ruling Judge Rosa said “The election is too close in time to enable a change in polling site that would be fair to all voters in the 5th district including by giving them timely and effective notice of change.” Rosa’s ruling was based on testimony from Commissioner Haight.
In reversing her own earlier ruling on Friday afternoon, moving the polling site to the Bard campus, Judge Rosa was critical of the relocation of the two other sites. The decision said in part “The basis for this court’s decision and order has now been eliminated since the primary factor identified by Commissioner Haight and relied upon by this court was simply untrue. Apparently there was, and is, time to move the polling place for District 5 in Red Hook. The court notes that Commissioner Haight submitted no affidavit in opposition to this motion.”
Judge Rosa’s order officially moves the polling place to Bard College, even though the college recently closed the campus to the public due to COVID-19 precautions. The order says ” this court modifies its prior determination. The District 5 polling place shall be moved from the St. John’s Episcopal Church in Red Hook, N.Y. to the Bertelsmann Campus Center at Bard College in Red Hook, N.Y. in time for in-person voting on November 3, 2020 from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.”
The Supreme Court Judge addressed the health concerns related to COVID-19, adding “This court notes the Respondents’ claims as to Bard’s rules regarding COVID-19 and Bard’s response and also notes Bard’s apparent ability to create a safe environment for voters particularly given its stated record of zero cases of COVID as of October 16, 2020 out of 4,417 tested students and employees.”
Bard College Executive Vice-president Jonathan Becker praised the decision. “We’re very pleased by the court’s ruling. It’s a victory for youth voters on the 50th anniversary of the 26th amendment to the constitution and for the safety of all voters and poll workers in the district. It’s also a win for the Americans with Disabilities Act and everyone it serves, and for the rule of law.”
GOP Commissioner Haight denounced the latest ruling, saying “To move a polling place to a closed campus defies common sense.” Becker refuted Haight’s concern, saying “The voting site on the Bard Campus, the Bertelsmann Campus Center will be open to all voters in District 5. This has been our policy from outset and has been included as an element of all of our campus safety protocols, including the recent tightening of campus access. Becker indicated that safety protocols will protect voters while on campus, saying they “will take equally extraordinary measures to make sure that access to voting on election day is easy, fair, and safe. Based on the College’s record in preventing any cases on campus so far, voting on the campus should be considered the safest and most convenient alternative for in-person voting.”
Democratic Elections Commissioner Beth Soto was pleased with the new decision, calling it “A great day for democracy.”
Soto continued, adding “As the Democratic Commissioner I fully supported this decision, which is documented in the court petitions. Anything said to the contrary is pure malarkey. The judge recognized that the Republican Commissioner’s reasons for not moving the poll site were not legitimate. I have long maintained that the only reason the GOP has refused to consider moving the site was to suppress the student vote.”
The campus is currently closed to the public and signs are posted to inform visitors that, except for certain reasons, entry is prohibited. According to Becker, that will change this week. “Signage on campus will be updated this week directing voters to the new polling site. We will also deploy Security and other campus staff to ensure that Bard is an accessible and welcoming polling site.”