College students warn of voting rights violations by Republican Elections Commish

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POUGHKEEPSIE – A group of students at Vassar College has sent a letter to the county executive and legislature, warning of alleged voter suppression by the Dutchess County Republican Elections Commissioner.

Student leaders of Democracy Matters, backed by The Andrew Goodman Foundation, League of Women Voters of the Mid-Hudson Region, and Dutchess Student Voting Coalition, sent a letter to Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro and Legislature Chairman Gregg Pulver on Monday claiming that the Dutchess County Board of Elections (BOE) is in “clear violation” of state law by failing to designate an on-campus polling site at Vassar College in the Town of Poughkeepsie.  Democracy Matters hinted at legal action if the BOE does not rectify the situation.

According to the letter, the Dutchess County Attorney’s Office gave the BOE inaccurate guidance on the law which mandates an August 1, 2022 deadline to designate poll sites on campuses with 300 or more residents registered to vote locally.   The group is asking the county to designate a campus site by the end of this week.

Sara Lawler, a senior at Vassar and a leader in the campus chapter of Democracy Matters, said, “The lack of an onsite polling campus really creates an additional burden to voting for Vassar students. Because most college students don’t have cars, the lack of an on-campus polling station highly discourages Vassar students from voting by creating a barrier to access.”

Currently, student voters in Ward 6, Election Districts 3 and 4 must walk off campus to the Dutchess County Water and Wastewater Authority, while those in Ward 6, Election District 2 must take a shuttle to an off-campus poll site on New Hackensack Road. County buses do not serve the latter location.

Democracy Matters has applauded BOE Democratic Elections Commissioner Hannah Black for suggesting a change.  Black proposed a central polling site at Vassar College for the November 8, 2022 election that would provided voting access for all three election districts that currently cut through the campus, while keeping open all existing off-campus polling locations.

The League of Women Voters noted Commissioner Haight has a history of “well-documented years-long ongoing efforts to suppress the youth vote in Dutchess County.”  Haight has had disagreements with Bard College over inadequate and unconstitutional polling facilities for campus residents. In various student voting rights lawsuits successfully brought by Bard College over the last decade, Haight’s refusal to act cost Dutchess County taxpayers over $120,000 in legal fees.

Haight responded to the allegations, by saying, “The proposal made by Commissioner Black isn’t permitted by the Election Law. I have repeatedly asked her for a solution that complies with the entirety of the law and she’s failed to do so.”  In explaining the duties associated with the position, Haight added “As Election Commissioners, we must make decisions that balance the needs of all voters, not just a select few.”  Haight did not pass on the opportunity to take a shot at the college groups seeking new polling places, saying, “I’m supporting the path that enfranchises all voters not only the college students.”