troubles on campus
local controversy over student voting heated up again last November,
culminating—for the moment—with a complaint before the
state attorney general.
Back in 1988, Lisa Levy ’89 and David Hummel ’89 spearheaded
a successful court case to allow students at New York State colleges
to register to vote locally, regardless of their “permanent”
address in or out of state. Accordingly, Skidmore students have
routinely registered using the college’s 815 North Broadway
address. In recent years they did so in sufficient numbers to warrant
a new electoral district, including a voting booth on campus, despite
objections by Republican city officials. And Skidmore voters can
swing elections: a few Democratic candidates have scored narrow
victories in the traditionally Republican stronghold of Saratoga
Again this season candidates for mayor and other city-council posts
locked horns in extremely tight races; the mayor, for example, was
chosen by just 80 votes. With about 900 Skidmore students registered—mostly
as Democrats or independents—the Republicans mounted a challenge
at the campus polling place.
On election day, a Republican poll watcher at the Skidmore voting
booth allegedly dissuaded some students from casting ballots (and
the attendant delays may have discouraged others). His argument
was that students in off-campus housing—either Moore Hall
or private apartments in town—should vote in the precincts
where they actually reside. By the afternoon a judge ruled that
off-campus students could vote in the Skidmore precinct as registered,
but only by filling out affidavits swearing to their residency.
About 300 students did cast votes, including thirty-six by affidavit.
After hearing student complaints of initimidation, and reports by
witnesses that no Republican-registered students were challenged,
the local Democratic committee chair asked New York State Attorney
General Eliot Spitzer to look into the incident. A little later,
a group of Republicans asked Spitzer to investigate the legality
of registering off-campus students at the college address.
In the end, Republicans held or rewon three of the five city posts.
Now the college is waiting to see how or when Republican forces
may move to alter student-registration rules. Should off-campus
students be required to use their residence addresses, it’s
likely the number of voters registered in the North Broadway district
would no longer merit a separate polling place and on-campus students
would be assigned to a voting place elsewhere in town. —SR