November 14, 2013
Students protest polling sites switch
None of college’s 3 voting places were on campus this year
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland senior Casey Lajszky tells of the difficulty she had voting in last week’s election due to changes in polling places. Students holding signs are, from left, Erin Durgin, Sarah Wood and Nina Difederico.
The SUNY Cortland chapter of the New York State Public Interest Research Group held a news conference Wednesday morning to outline its opposition to the removal of polling sites on and near the campus for last week’s election.
For 2012’s election, on-campus residents were able to vote at one of two polling locations, one at the Park Center at the center of campus, and the other at the city Water Works at 75 Broadway.
For this year’s election, however, the campus was broken into three election districts with three different polling locations, losing its only on-campus polling site in the process. Instead, students were required to vote at the pump station location, Parkside Ministries on Homer Avenue north of campus or at Christ Community Church in Cortlandville near the campus’ south end.
The change meant that some on-campus residents wishing to vote and without access to vehicles had to walk over a mile to reach their assigned polling locations.
“I found voting this year very difficult,” said political science major Casey Lajszky, whose polling location was at Parkside Ministries. “It would have been impossible for me to get to if it hadn’t been for the vans that NYPIRG had set up to take students to and from the polls.”
Jessie Johnnes, the college’s NYPIRG coordinator who organized the news conference in Corey Union on the campus of SUNY Cortland, said that even with the van service, many students whose class schedules didn’t coincide with van times were left stranded.
“We believe that by having off campus polling sites, students are discouraged from voting,” said SGA (Student Government Association) public relations coordinator Khalia Brown. “It also makes voting very inconvenient and inaccessible.”
Johnnes admitted that, as it was a non-presidential election year, student interest in voting was not as high as it has been, she expects that to change with the upcoming governor and presidential elections in 2014 and 2016, respectively.
Michael Myones, a political science major who lives on Main Street, said that, although he owns a car and voted at the Cortland County Office Building on Central Avenue, he could understand the concern.
“If I was a freshman and I didn’t have a car, I probably wouldn’t have been able to vote,” he said. “There’s about 7,000 undergrads (at the college), with about half of them on campus. That’s a lot of people that you’re making it hard for.”
Brown said that Cortland’s NYPIRG chapter and the SGA are looking to form a working group of students, faculty and administration to, “see what brought about the changes in polling locations for students registered on campus, and what can be done to make poll sites more accessible.”
Thomas Brown, the county’s Democrat election commissioner, said that the change had been made to alleviate parking congestion that had occurred during primary races.
“We had lots of complaints about parking,” said Brown, adding that some people had made it clear that if the situation wasn’t improved upon, that they would not be voting in the general election.
Brown said that the board of elections looked at how the change in voting venue might impact on-campus voters, finding that only 17 percent would be affected. Students being assigned to the Parkside venue, he said, was a result of city and town acts of redistricting.
He also noted that the change in venue could be a temporary one.
“We will be reviewing the effect of this with county and city officials,” said Brown. “We would like to be back on campus if possible.”
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