Triumph prevailed, or so it seemed, last semester when the Bard College Multipurpose Room (MPR) was granted an on-campus polling location. The then-newly and temporarily appointed polling site was announced days before the 2020 United States presidential election on November 3, 2020. Decades worth of research, persistence, and advocacy on behalf of student and disabled communities finally culminated in a win. Election@Bard, The Andrew Goodman Foundation, and other organizations rejoiced. Sadia Saba ‘21, an Andrew Goodman Foundation Student Ambassador, strode alongside President Leon Botstein as they entered MPR to cast the first ballot of the day.
The Dutchess County Board of Elections has since experienced several controversies. Beginning with its Commissioners, former Democratic Commissioner Elizabeth Soto has been replaced by Hannah Black. On January 25, 2021, Dutchess Democrats Chairwoman Elise Sumner accused Republican Commissioner Haight, repeatedly a vehement obstacle to legislative changes, of committing perjury in the October 2020 Bard College lawsuit proceedings.
Dutchess County District Attorney William V. Grady investigated the allegations, with more allegations brought on by Black. Black stated that Commissioner Soto should be investigated for possible collaboration with Commissioner Haight in acts of “voter suppression.”
Fast forward to February 2021. Many on this campus believed this saga to be a closed book; however, it is far from being finished. The struggle to permanently secure a polling site on campus remains murky and unclear, to this day. February 25’s Board of Election Poll Site Designation meeting began yet another chapter in the winded book of student voter suppression. Commissioner Haight refused to support Commissioner Black’s motion to designate the Bertelsmann Campus Center as the College’s polling site. He instead proposed a motion to “utilize the Richard B. Fisher Center for Performing Arts” as a location.
Haight, in response to Black’s suggested motion, stated: “It [MPR] was not an ideal scenario. I’ve received countless complaints from voters. The Campus Center was difficult to find. Voters felt intimidated by the security checkpoints and COVID questions…” Haight’s generous rebuttal for a “compromise site” was not supported by Black. The clash of motions ultimately gave way to a ricocheting back to St. John’s Episcopal Church as the District 5 polling site.
The events surrounding the College’s polling site struggles come on the tail of recent nationwide developments in voting laws. Georgia’s latest election law includes a reduction of voting drop boxes, more ID requirements, and a cut in time for absentee ballot requests. There remains bipartisan debate surrounding the extent of voter suppression this legislation will enable. Albeit, the new policy will disproportionately affect low-income and Black communities in the state. Republicans are continuing to push for similar laws in other states, like Florida, Arizona and Texas.
It is still unclear what will become of the struggle to permanently establish a polling location on the Bard campus. But one thing is certain. The College is undefeated in its will to establish a polling site, and small steps are already underway towards this process. Upon asking Executive Vice President Joanathan Becker for further comment, I learned that there have been discussions with the state legislature towards advancing the goal for a permanent site. Becker said: “We do not accept that the failure to agree means that the site should be moved to St. John’s, Barrytown. We have indicated that we are prepared to litigate if such a decision is taken.”
Communications with the BOE have been progressing slowly. Becker and the rest of the team involved had written to the BOE expressing their refusal of recent motions. It is simply a matter of how timely the BOE will respond, and how they chose to. Black and others at the BOE have yet to prove they are anything but unresponsive to proof and committed action.