The Andrew Goodman Foundation (AGF), The League of Women Voters (LWV) of the Mid-Hudson Region & New York State, county-based Dutchess Student Voting Coalition, and the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) are celebrating a significant victory achieved in the late afternoon yesterday for Vassar College students, who will now have an accessible polling place on campus for the General Election this Tuesday, November 8. The Honorable Christie L. D’Alessio of the Supreme Court of the State of New York granted the entire petition of a lawsuit filed just two days prior, which argued that the Dutchess County Board of Elections (BOE) was in violation of state law. Judge D’Alessio’s decision effectively orders the Dutchess County BOE to situate a polling place at Vassar College immediately.
In April, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed new legislation to mandate polling places on college campuses with 300 or more registered students or at a nearby site proposed by the college, and that such designations be made by August 1, 2022. The legislation also prevents the division of college campuses into multiple voting districts as of January 1, 2023. Judge D’Alessio’s order cited this “plain language” as a clear and specific mandate to place a polling site on Vassar’s campus, finding:
“The plain language of Election Law 4-104[5-a] which includes the word ‘shall’ (as opposed to ‘may’ or ‘should’) specifically mandates the designation of a voting polling lace on a college or university campus where, as here, the petitioner demonstrated that the college or university campus contains three hundred or more registrants to vote at an address on such college or university campus.”
The November 3, 2022 decision and order is the first to interpret the new state mandate.
Prior to this order, the Dutchess County BOE had failed to assign a polling place on Vassar College’s campus, despite the college emailing to request a site, and identifying several options, for its 1,080 registered student voters in August. To name the site, both Republican Elections Commissioner Erik Haight and Democrat Elections Commissioner Hannah Black would have had to come to an agreement, which was repeatedly stalled by Commissioner Haight while Commissioner Black favored granting a consolidated on-campus polling site that can serve all students despite a college gerrymander that divides the campus in three local districts.
“This is a tremendous win for the Vassar community. A polling place on campus will make voting a whole lot more accessible and safer for student, faculty, and staff voters, and will definitely result in a much higher rate of democratic participation on campus. I can’t wait to cast my ballot on Tuesday!” says Magda Sharff, a Vassar College first-year student and plaintiff in the lawsuit.
Student group Democracy Matters, alongside AGF, LWV of the Mid-Hudson Region, and the Dutchess Student Voting Coalition, sent a coalition demand letter to Dutchess County Executive Marcus J. Molinaro and Legislature Chairman A. Gregg Pulver on October 25, stating that the Dutchess County Board of Elections was in “clear violation” of state law and that the Dutchess County Attorney’s Office had given inaccurate information to the BOE about the timeline for fulfilling the state law’s mandate. Both leaders declined to do anything to encourage the BOE’s compliance with the law.
In previous years, students at Bard College in Dutchess County had faced similar obstacles from the BOE and Commissioner Haight during their decades-long advocacy for an on-campus polling place of their own. In 2020, AGF filed suit on behalf of Bard College President Leon Botstein, Andrew Goodman Campus Champion Erin Cannan, Andrew Goodman Ambassador Sadia Saba, and succeeded in securing an on-campus polling place for Bard College ahead of the 2020 Presidential Election. As Vassar College students faced similar opposition from the Dutchess County BOE, AGF and Bard College offered support to Vassar’s student and faculty voters.
“This ruling is a victory for all New Yorkers. The League has continuously fought for the expansion of polling sites on college campuses, and we are thrilled that the students of Vassar College will be able to cast their vote at an accessible site on Election Day. This fight isn’t over; we must now ensure that voting continues to be accessible not only for students living on college campuses, but for all eligible voters. In a time where voting rights are being unprecedently attacked, this ruling serves as a reminder of New York State’s dedication to protecting systems that preserve democracy. The League of Women Voters of New York State applauds the incredible work of our Mid-Hudson League and The Andrew Goodman Foundation and their success in this lawsuit,” says Laura Ladd Bierman, Executive Director of The League of Women Voters of New York State.
“On behalf of the League, I would like to say that we are very pleased with the result. Vassar students are a part of our community and deserve to have their voices heard. The law was amended to address prior attempts to stifle student votes and very plainly requires a polling site on campus. We need a Board of Elections that works on behalf of all the voters. This court decision is a step in the right direction and we look forward to working with both Commissioners in the future to continue efforts to support all voters,” says Jennifer Clark, Vice President of the League of Women Voters of the Mid-Hudson Region, an organizational plaintiff in the lawsuit.
“The state law requiring on-campus polling places is an important measure to ensure that student-voters have their voices heard. This ruling should send a clear message to election officials around the state that complying with the voter protection laws is not optional and that voters fight to break down barriers to the ballot,” says Perry Grossman, Esq., Supervising Attorney of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
“On-campus polling locations are a key, under-appreciated, and under-utilized election mechanism for a protected class of voters,” says Yael Bromberg, Esq. of Bromberg Law LLC, constitutional rights attorney, legal scholar, and Special Counsel & Strategic Advisor to the President/CEO of The Andrew Goodman Foundation. “Our research demonstrates that this mechanism correlates with a significant increase in youth turn-out. Notably, this mechanism was specifically contemplated in the legislative history of the Twenty-Sixth Amendment, which lowered the voting age and outlaws age discrimination in ballot access. The Andrew Goodman Foundation will continue to empower our student chapters across the country with key resources and best practices from the field. We will continue to ensure implementation of the New York state law as we advocate for national legislation like the Youth Voting Rights Act, which would bring polling locations on campuses across the country along with other comprehensive solutions for youth voters.”
The Andrew Goodman Foundation has extensive experience in organizing, advocating, and litigating when necessary to bring polling places to campuses across the country. In addition to winning the Bard College polling place, AGF also won precedential student-led litigation in Florida ahead of the 2018 Midterm Elections that opened the pathway for the placement of 12 on-campus early voting sites that election. The research in AGF’s resulting report, On-Campus Early In-Person Voting in Florida in the 2018 General Election, indicates that turnout — especially among young registered voters — in the Florida counties that introduced on-campus early voting locations, was higher in 2018 compared to 2016. Additionally, Hispanic and Black voters used the on-campus locations at a higher rate than their peers, and voters of a variety of age groups availed themselves of the new mechanism. Notably, the report found that 60,000 Floridians availed themselves of this expanded election mechanism in 2018.
Leveraging its network’s experiences in securing polling places on campuses, in October, The Andrew Goodman Foundation launched Student Vote Choice, a national campaign to promote student voter accessibility to vote in person or by mail, and to ensure that these ballots are counted. The campaign is joined by partner organizations the Anti-Defamation League, Deliver My Vote, Hillel International, Institute for Democracy & Higher Education, and the National Vote At Home Institute.
The Vassar College litigation was brought by Elias Law Group LLP and argued by Richard Medina. The 2020 Bard College litigation was brought by Michael Volpe of Venable LLP, Douglas B. Mishkin, and Yael Bromberg of Bromberg Law LLC. The 2021 Bard College litigation was brought by Michael Donofrio, Esq. of Stris & Maher LLP, Doug Mishkin, Esq., and Bromberg Law LLC. The 2018 Florida litigation was brought by King, Blackwell, Zehnder & Wermuth, P.A. and Perkins Coie LLP.
About The Andrew Goodman Foundation
The Andrew Goodman Foundation’s mission is to make young voices and votes a powerful force in democracy by training the next generation of leaders, engaging young voters, and challenging restrictive voter suppression laws. The organization is named after Andrew Goodman, a Freedom Summer volunteer and champion of equality and voting rights who was murdered, alongside James Earl Chaney and Michael Schwerner, by the KKK in 1964 while registering Black Americans to vote in Mississippi. To learn more, visit www.andrewgoodman.org.
About the League of Women Voters of New York State
The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan political organization, encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy. The League of Women Voters (LWV) is a strictly nonpartisan citizen activist organization that operates at the local, state, and national levels. There are LWVs in every state; Washington, D.C.; Puerto Rico; and the Virgin Islands. In New York State, there are 60 local Leagues throughout the state. To learn more, visit https://lwvny.org.
About the New York Civil Liberties Union
The New York Civil Liberties Union is one of the nation’s foremost defenders of civil liberties and civil rights. Founded in 1951 as the New York affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, NYCLU is a not-for-profit, nonpartisan organization with eight chapters and regional offices, and more than 160,000 members across the state. NYCLU’s mission is to defend and promote the fundamental principles and values embodied in the Bill of Rights, the U.S. Constitution, and the New York Constitution, including freedom of speech and religion, and the right to privacy, equality and due process of law, with particular attention to the pervasive and persistent harms of racism. To learn more, visit https://www.nyclu.org/en.