No vote yet on how to prove who gets to vote

CRARYVILLE—The public, and the school board for that matter, still don’t know what will be required as acceptable proof of residency for someone to vote in a Taconic Hills Central School District election.

After a long discussion at its November 20 meeting, the nine-member Taconic Hills Board of Education remained divided on what to require as proof and no vote was taken.

Back in June, the board voted to switch to a system of poll registration for voters instead of its prior method of personal registration. The move was prompted, according to the accounts of some board members and School District Superintendent Neil Howard, by the discovery that people who were told they were not eligible to vote in the past May election illegally voted anyway.

The voter registration system switch has caused an avalanche of indignation and questions—mostly from residents, who have homes within the district and elsewhere.

The school district covers 10 towns and nearly 250 square miles in southeastern Columbia and northeastern Dutchess counties. The towns that make up the district are Copake, Hillsdale, the Village of Philmont and parts of the Towns of Ancram, Austerlitz, Claverack, Gallatin, Ghent, Livingston, Northeast and Taghkanic.

The board last discussed the issue at a September 18 public workshop meeting called to hear information about how the system works under State Education Law from School District Attorney Christine Lanchantin. At that time, a standing-room-only crowd peppered the board with questions. A report on the meeting appeared in the September 26 issue of The Columbia Paper.

At the November meeting, the board was given some options about what proof to require based on a survey taken by Attorney Lanchantin with the Girvin and Ferlazzo, PC, law firm in Albany.

The attorney sent a survey to the roughly 70 school districts the firm represents, asking whether they had “personal” or “poll” registration and under either system, what they require for “proof of residency” either at the time of registration or at the vote itself.

She summarized the responses from the 25 districts that replied.

Board member Craig Bender said the types of proof listed were broad, including driver’s licenses, taxes, leases, utility bills. He said voter registration cards were not mentioned but should be considered by the board.

But board member Joseph Costa objected, saying, “We want to get away from poll registration lists.” In the recent November election, when someone he knew went to vote early, that person found someone else’s name in the place where he was supposed to sign. “If they can’t take care of their own election, why let them deal in ours?” he said, referring to the Columbia County Board of Elections.

Board member David Baylen said a voter registration card should be allowed and pointed to the board resolution adopted in June, which sought to “increase voter participation.” He said the board should therefore provide for “a liberal way” for people to vote, noting that “doesn’t preclude someone from being challenged.”

Board member Linda Lee presented a scenario in which a young voter living at home has no driver’s license or lease to prove residency and said there was no solution offered as to how they would be covered.

“So we should just let them waltz right in and vote?” Mr. Costa asked sarcastically, adding “They have to prove something.”

Board member Ronald Morales noted there is such a thing as a non-driver’s license identification. Board President Bonnie Torchia affirmed that her daughter got one.

Ms. Lee lamented a “low voter turnout” because people will “not have the ID we require.”

“We have that anyway,” Mr. Morales responded. “You need to have ID in life.” When the district told some voters they did not have the proper form of residency ID, “they showed up anyway.”

“We want everyone to vote,” he continued, noting 8,000 people are eligible district voters, yet just 600 to 800 usually come to vote.

Board member Terry Sullivan, who ran for a Copake Town Board seat in November, said that “the walking list” she obtained from the County Board of Elections to use in her door-to-door campaign was “so inaccurate.” She said at least one third of the homes she visited over several months had an absence of residents or different residents than indicated on the list. She said the school district should “keep things in-house” and she would feel more confident that way than “dealing with the county.”

President Torchia said that the new system will make it easier for people to vote. She said people can just show up with a driver’s license and be able to vote on their children’s education. “Those will be the increased voters,” she said.

Mr. Baylen said that people are not required to have children in the district to vote and that such “polarizing” statements do not serve the community well.

After continued back and forth, Superintendent Howard told the board it might have to vote on each particular form of proof individually in order to come to some agreement.

Board member Jeffrey Hotaling concurred, noting talk about the matter has gone on for months, “We need to vote on which forms and move on.”

In addition to a driver’s license and lease, Attorney Lanchantin mentioned many other forms of residency proof in her letter including: a STAR exemption, bank statement, paycheck/paystub, W-2 or a tax return, a deed, utility bills, car registration and insurance card and cell phone bill.

Mr. Howard said he would take the board discussion back to the lawyer and consult with her and board leadership about how to proceed with a vote next month.

The board’s next regular meeting is December 18 at 6:30 p.m.

To contact Diane Valden email

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