Some Small Stuff is TOO Small: Dutchess County, NY Order on Student Voting


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I talk a lot in these pages about the tyranny of little things, with a frequent refrain of “there is no small stuff”; however, a judge in Dutchess County (Poughkeepsie), NY would appear to disagree in the wake of an order ending a controversial practice regarding student voting. The Daily Freeman has the details:

Dutchess County’s Republican elections commissioner has agreed to stop demanding college students provide the name of their dorms and their room number in order to register to vote.

That agreement, approved on May 13 by U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas, settles a class action suit brought by four students attending colleges in Dutchess County who claimed they were illegally denied the right to vote in the 2012 election.

Dutchess County Democratic Elections Commissioner Fran Knapp called the agreement “a great victory for student voting rights here in Dutchess County.”

Republican Elections Commissioner Erik Haight said it puts to end to what he said was inconsistency in the elections board’s policies.

In October 2012, Haight barred roughly 100 students at Bard College, Marist College and the Culinary Institute of America from registering to vote because although the students had listed the street address of their dormitory on their applications they did not list the name of the dorm in which they resided. Haight, who was appointed to the Board of Elections in 2011, claimed his action was in keeping with a 2003 board policy. Knapp, who opposed Haight’s action, said no such requirement existed except for students at Vassar College in the town of Poughkeepsie, where the dorms are divided between two election districts.

The move prompted the state Board of Elections to take the unusual step of issuing a written advisory opinion in which it stated that a street address was all that was required unless there was a specific reason, such as exists at Vassar College, for additional information in order to identify the election district where a voter lives.

On the day before the 2012 election, Karas issued an order directing the Dutchess County Board of Elections to register those students.

The May 13 agreement permanently prohibits the Dutchess County Board of Elections from rejecting any student application solely because dorm name and room number information is lacking.

In defense of “small stuff”, though, this looks less like a proper attention to detail and more like the kind of “persnickety disqualification” that Ohio State’s Ned Foley described in another context last fall.

Student voting continues to be an issue across the country – and likely will be for as long as the two major parties seem to view their loyalties differently – but this case is a reminder that some efforts to hold the line on procedure can (and likely will) bring attention from the courts.

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