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Bard College Continues To Push For A Polling Site To Be Moved To Its Campus

Voting booths
Pat Bradley

And now an update to a story we’ve been bringing you over the past several weeks…After a judge last week denied a petition from Bard College to move an off-campus polling site to its Annandale-on-Hudson campus, petitioners have renewed their claim. They point to an instance where two other polling sites in Dutchess County were moved within a few days of the judge’s decision.

Petitioners and others on Thursday continued demanding that the Dutchess County Board of Elections relocate a polling site at a church down the road from Bard College to the Bard campus. They held a virtual press conference to underscore their call. Jonathan Becker is Bard’s Executive Vice President and Vice President for Academic Affairs.

“When we proposed moving the polling place, the Board of Elections said it makes little sense to move a polling place at the last moment in order to protect people from COVID-19. That was in September,” Becker says. “And then, the day after the judge ruled based on their recommendation that it would be too disruptive to move the polling place, they moved two other polling places in the center of Red Hook for COVID reasons.”

The state Supreme Court judge on October 13 denied the petitioners’ request. Yael Bromberg is chief counsel for voting rights with the Andrew Goodman Foundation and says petitioners are taking additional legal action.

“And therefore, we are requesting for immediate relief to get a polling station on campus, on Bard College for this election cycle, and also we’ll be pushing for permanent relief for ongoing election cycles as well,” says Bromberg.

The initial lawsuit filed by Bard College and the Andrew Goodman Foundation, which supports student voting across the country, claims the Dutchess County Board of Elections allegedly violates students’ voting rights. It also claims that the District 5 polling site, about a mile-and-a-half from campus at St. John’s Episcopal Church, is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, is too small for social distancing and is generally unsafe.

After the judge’s decision last week, Republican Dutchess County Elections Commissioner Erik Haight, said, “The rule of law has prevailed and I’m gratified the Court reached the obvious decision. I think this is a good teaching lesson for the students that if you don’t get what you want, you shouldn’t just run off to court and waste everyone’s time and taxpayer’s money.”

Kathy Gaweda is a senior at Bard and team leader of Election@Bard, a campus student group that is a plaintiff in the case.

“We still strongly believe that the multi-purpose located in the Bard College campus center is a better suited space to accommodate not only Bard voters but other voters within the election district,” Gaweda says. “This lawsuit is not something we as a student group take lightly, nor was it our first course of action. Generations of Election@Bard leaders have fought to secure an on-campus polling place.”

Bard, which has not had any COVID-19 cases, has closed its campus to all but those who live, work or study there. President Leon Botsein announced the measure October 19 in response to the number of COVID cases rising nationally and regionally. Again, Becker.

“Bard is open for essential civic activities, includes voting,” says Becker. “In fact, because of our testing regime, I think we are perhaps the safest place in the area to host voting.”

Haight, in an emailed statement following Botstein’s announcement that the campus would become a closed campus, said, “Bard’s plan is quite obvious. Get the court to move the poll site on campus and then close it to the public under the guise of the pandemic so only students can vote. Clearly my position has been affirmed and vindicated. I will never back down from protecting the needs of all the voters.”

Though the initial suit was filed against the county Board of Elections and its two commissioners, Democratic Commissioner Elizabeth Soto supports moving the polling site.

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