Brennan Center, NYCLU Urge Dutchess County to Remove Barrier to Registration for College Students

October 11, 2012

The Brennan Center for Justice and the New York Civil Liberties Union today urged Dutchess County Board of Elections Commissioner Erik Haight to stop requiring Bard College and Culinary Institute of America students to identify the names of their dormitories on voter registration forms.

“This is a needless requirement that advances no conceivable interest,” NYCLU Legal Director Arthur Eisenberg said. “It imposes an unconstitutional burden on the fundamental right of college students to vote as residents of their college communities, where they are affected by the decisions of local officials and which they regard as their primary places of residence.”

The NYCLU received reports that Commissioner Haight is refusing to process the voter registration forms submitted by students of the two colleges who live in dormitories if the forms do not identify the specific names of the students’ dormitories.

In a letter sent today to Commissioner Haight, the NYCLU lays out federal case law establishing college students’ fundamental right to vote in their college communities. Any policy or practice that significantly burdens students’ voting rights can only be sustained if found necessary to advance a compelling interest. But there is no compelling interest in the requirement that students provide their dormitory’s name in addition to an address. 

“Providing the street addresses of their dormitories sufficiently demonstrates that college students qualify as residents of their Dutchess County communities,” said Lee Rowland of the Brennan Center. “It would be ludicrous if the New York City Board of Elections disqualified the registration of voters who give the street addresses of their apartment buildings but don’t identify that they live in ‘the Dakota’ or ‘the San Remo.’ This situation is no different.”

To read the full letter, visit http://www.nyclu.org/files/releases/Commissioner_Haight_letter_10.11.12.pdf.