Vassar Today

Students Win Right to Vote in Dutchess County

Students residing in Dutchess County will find their access to local voting booths much easier, thanks to a decision by newly appointed Republican elections commissioner David Gamache to eliminate a lengthy questionnaire required of those with campus addresses. The decision brought to an end efforts by about 80 students from Vassar, Bard, and Marist colleges and David Leviss, an attorney with the New York Civil Liberties Union, to sue Dutchess County for the right to vote.

The students, who received support from administrators, faculty, and campus organizations, charged county officials with unilaterally denying them the opportunity to vote if they registered under a campus address. For years, charged students, election officers used the questionnaire to deny students their status as legal residents of Dutchess County. Under New York State Law, a person must only live at the same address for at least 30 days prior to the election to meet the residency requirement. 

“I think of Vassar and Poughkeepsie as my home,” said Brendan Wheeler ’03, who came to Poughkeepsie from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “It’s appalling to me that this happens. Voting rights are something people died for.” 

But in June, the students and Leviss declared victory after Gamache agreed to stop sending out the questionnaires. From his office in Poughkeepsie, Gamache acknowledged that “everybody should be encouraged to register to vote.” He said he made his decision because the questionnaire “asked for more information than was necessary to determine residency.” As long as each registrant meets the legal voting eligibility requirements, said Gamache, he or she will be allowed to vote.