CRARYVILLE—When Taconic Hills School District voters head to the polls this May, they better make sure they can prove who they are and where they live if they want their votes to count.
Under the district’s new system of poll registration, people who claim residency in the district and want to vote, must bring documents to the polls with them that bear their name and the physical address of the place they call home for most of the year.
Last June, a majority of the nine-member board voted to switch to a system of poll registration for voters—dumping its prior method of personal registration. The move was prompted by the discovery that people who were told they were not eligible to vote in the May 2019 election– illegally voted anyway, according to the accounts of some board members and school officials.
The voter registration system switch has caused a deluge 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 municipalities 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.
Since the board voted to enact the new system of voter registration six months ago, members have been debating and consulting with their attorney and were still unable to agree on exactly what form of proof of residency to require.
But at the December 18 Board of Education meeting, after still more argument and discussion with the attorney, the board finally voted to accept the following list of documents as constituting “proof of residency within the school district for purposes of voting in school district votes (subject to the 30-day residency requirement and subject to challenge) and asserts that this is not an ‘all inclusive/exclusive-of-all-else’ list. Other proofs as well as personal knowledge of an individual’s residence by the board clerk and election inspectors may also be acceptable”:
• Driver’s license with physical address
• Learner’s permit with physical address
• Real ID with physical address
• Non-driver ID with physical address
• Enhanced driver’s license with physical address
• New York State tax return with physical address
• Federal tax return with physical address
• Star Exemption/Credit Basic or Enhanced
• Bank statement with physical address
• Paycheck/pay stub with physical address
• Property deed or lease with individual’s name and at least one of the following—utility bills from winter months, car registration or insurance card.
The board voted unanimously to accept this assortment of documents. What the board deemed unacceptable, by a vote of six to three, is a voter registration card issued by the Columbia County Board of Elections.
Board members Joseph Costa, Jeffrey Hotaling, Ronald Morales, Alicia O’Rourke, Terry Sullivan and Bonnie Torchia opposed acceptance of the voter registration card, while David Baylen, Craig Bender and Linda Lee voted for it.
Voters who cannot conclusively prove where they live will be allowed to vote by affidavit. Whether each of these votes will be counted will be decided later by a verification process that has not yet been established.
Voters whose ballots are deemed not allowable will be sent a letter telling them so and why, District Clerk Melissa Layman said at the meeting.