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Winter 2004

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Election troubles on campus

The 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 Springs.

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


© 2004 Skidmore College