ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Bard College will have a fully functional polling site on campus for the 2022 general election, a change college officials hope will be long-lasting. Last week, Dutchess County Board of Elections (BOE) Commissioner Hannah Black informed Bard officials that the poll site at the college’s Bertelsmann Campus Center would be fully staffed and have the required amount of polling machines; previously, the site had been the only one in the County to have three instead of four poll workers and one of two to have one polling machine.

College officials said the staffing issues were in direct violation of election regulations, policies, and practices, and court ordered settlement. The recent BOE decision came after Bard had filed a complaint with the Enforcement Counsel following years of litigation to secure an on-campus polling location and ensure equal access to the ballot.

The decision, which came last week, appears to be the final chapter in a fight that has been taking place since 1999, when Bard and Vassar students pressed the Dutchess County Board of Elections to cease systemically denying the students the right to register locally, as is their right under New York State election law. The focus shifted to discriminatory regulations concerning student addresses and finally to a poll site on the Bard campus. The victory comes just after the 50th anniversary of the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18 and outlawed discrimination in ballot access.

Over the last two decades, students from Bard won four lawsuits, including a federal lawsuit and accompanying consent decree forcing the cessation of registration rejections due to allegedly invalid student addresses, a New York State Supreme Court suit over the counting of votes after students were harassed at polls, and two New York State Supreme and Appellate Court decisions establishing and maintaining a polling site at Bard campus. In the latter two cases, students were joined by litigants including Bard President Leon Botstein and Vice President for Civic Engagement Erin Cannan, and supported by The Andrew Goodman Foundation, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to making youth voices and votes a powerful force in democracy. In all, the County has spent more than $120,000 in legal fees over the past decade in losing a series of lawsuits.

The Bard cases have had significant reverberations. Last spring, in part in response to Bard’s experience, coupled by the efforts of a statewide voting rights coalition, the state passed a law mandating polling sites on college campuses across the state with 300 or more registered voters. That law is currently being tested at Vassar College, which has yet to be granted a new polling site.

For the 2022 election, the Board of Elections decided to close the second traditional poll site in District 5 at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Barrytown, in spite of a court-approved agreement between Bard and the BOE that allowed for polling sites at both St. John’s and Bard. The St. John’s location had been the site of dispute because of its distance from public transportation and its inaccessibility. The site had been one focus of the complaint to the Enforcement Counsel of the Board of Elections, which included evidence that the BOE had conducted an obviously false American with Disabilities Act survey, including listing “N/A” in response to multiple survey questions on the accessibility of ramps and walkways, coupled with subsequent documentation of Commissioner Haight’s decision to block efforts to conduct a new survey in spite of representations to a Supreme Court judge that the Board would conduct a new survey immediately following the 2020 lawsuit.

Counsel on the most recent actions are Michael Donofrio, Esq. of Stris & Maher LLP, Doug Mishkin, Esq., and Yael Bromberg, Esq. of Bromberg Law LLC.

Jonathan Becker, Bard’s Executive Vice President and Director of Bard’s Center for Civic Engagement stated, “This is a victory for voting rights and for youth voters everywhere and for the 26th Amendment. The Board of Elections’ systemic discrimination against students has been a lesson about the need to fight injustice wherever it appears. We are also pleased the Board’s actions have been so egregious that they have impelled the state to implement legislative fixes to curb abuses of power throughout the state.”