Out-of-State Students Can Now Vote in New York City

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
October 6, 2000 12:00 am

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NEW YORK — After weeks of negotiation and threats of a class-action lawsuit, a group of Columbia University activists, working with the New York Civil Liberties Union, forced state officials to back down from a plan to disqualify out-of-state students from voting in New York.

Upon registering to vote, students at Columbia have reported either hearing nothing from the board of elections or receiving a special questionnaire asking them to answer questions such as where their driver’s license was issued, according to Columbia Daily Spectator, the university’s newspaper. That information, according to activists, could then be used to disfranchise out-of-state students. Students at New York University also reported receiving questionnaires.

In response, a collection of Columbia political activists, contacted the NYCLU and began assembling evidence for use in a potential class-action lawsuit. After weeks of discussions between the NYCLU and the Board of Elections, the situation finally resolved itself when, after meeting with Tretjak and an NYCLU representative on Tuesday, the Board of Elections voted unanimously to register students without the questionnaire.

“It’s a huge victory, a complete and total victory,” Tretjak said. “I think they recognized that this was in error and that there’s no way it would hold up in a court of law.”

But Columbia students may not be able to rest on their electoral laurels just yet. According to Curtis Arluck, the Democratic Party’s district leader for Morningside Heights, the applications of students who tried to register before the decision “appear to have been put in some sort of suspended file, where they are sort of in limbo.”

This means that Columbia students who have registered but not heard from the Board of Elections may find that their name is not on the rolls come Election Day. While De Francesco promises that this will not be an issue, both Tretjak and Arluck said bureaucratic troubles within the Board of Elections make students’ status uncertain.

Despite all the conflicts and complications involved with the questionnaire issue, though, Tretjak seems pleased with the way things turned out. “I think that government works best when there is a vigilant public monitoring its decisions,” she said, “and that’s exactly what happened in this case.”

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