Geneseo Central School
Poll workers to students: ‘You shouldn’t be allowed to vote’
At the Oct. 7 Geneseo Central School District capital building proposition election, SUNY Geneseo students who attempted to cast their votes were discouraged and harassed by others who were voting, and at least in once instance, by an election worker.
On the ballot was an $11.4 million borrowing proposition for indoor and outdoor building renovation as well as a separate $190,200 proposition to expand the running track from six to eight lanes, and a $200,000 proposition to purchase land.
SUNY Geneseo track coach Mike Woods wants his athletes to exercise their right to vote.
“I’ve been encouraging my athletes to vote in the local town elections for the last 19 years — for as long as I’ve coached here,” Woods stated, emphasizing that “this was not a first time event.”
“I never tell them how to vote. I only encourage them to go out and exercise their option to do so,” Woods clarified. “The election is there and it’s their right.”
However, in the case of this school vote, SUNY track athletes had a special interest. Until it was recently improved, the condition of the SUNY Geneseo track facilities left much to be desired, so Geneseo Central coach Mike Henchen and former coach Mike Garger were generous in opening the track at the high school for use by the college athletes.
“We used the Geneseo track quite a bit. Even though they had 100 kids on there, they allowed us to come up anytime we wanted to with our 25 kids, until we had our new track,” Woods reported. “We knew what kind of condition it was in — and we saw it deteriorate.”
“Even without us, our kids saw how crowded that track is with just six lanes,” Woods continued. “There is no question that they need eight lanes.”
Consequently, the Geneseo building vote drew out visible numbers college track athletes and their college friends who were eligible to vote and who sympathized with the plight of fellow high school athletes.
However, the presence of college students at the polls also drew anger on the part some town citizens who resented the idea of college students participating in a local election.
Woods confirmed that some of his athletes and their friends were “hassled” when they attempted to cast their votes.
“They came back to me with some horror stories,” Woods said. “I always thought that voting workers are suppose to be impartial, but that wasn’t the case. Our kids came back and they were insulted.”
Woods was told of a specific individual who “was giving them [the college students] grief on the way in and grief on the way out.”
“It was pretty ugly — like maybe something that could have happened in the 1920s,” Woods opined.
In a separate incident, Mike Mattiucci was one of five SUNY Geneseo track athletes who piled into a car and went to the school to vote. All were identifiable by the track team jackets they wore.
“As we were going in we saw a few of our teammates coming out,” Mattiucci related. “They told us they were hassled while they were voting. So we went in with a little warning it might happen.”
“I was standing in line and the voter in front of me said something along the lines of, ‘You shouldn’t be allowed to vote’ directed right at me.”
“And a woman working the table chimed in as well, saying, ‘Yes, I don’t know why you’re allowed to vote. It’s ridiculous.’”
Mattiucci sensed that this comment was directed at his whole group.
A short argument ensured when Mattiucci responded with, “Why not?”
“You don’t live here,” was the reply from the woman in line.
Mattiucci is an sophomore who resides on-campus.
“Sure I do,” he answered.
At that point another election worked informed the woman arguing with Mattiucci that she needed to stop, and that she would have to leave the room if she refused.
For Mattiucci, it was his first time voting in any kind of Geneseo election, “and was not a nice experience.” However, he is adamant that the incident will not deter him from participating in future Geneseo elections.
The County News was informed of yet another case of three college students who encountered resistance at the school election. This track team member and two girls were turned away from an outside line in which they attempted to wait. They got in another line and did manage to get inside and cast their votes. While he was in the voting booth, the male student heard an “older gentleman” admonishing the two girls for coming out to vote.
College communities, Geneseo among them, have been historically split by a sometimes-voiced/sometimes insinuated line of thought which opposes college students participating in any sort of local government decisions. The rationalizations are that students are only in Geneseo on a temporary basis, and hence have no real interest in long term issues — and that the students are making no tax paying contributions to the costs of operating government.
Supporters of the college student vote argue that both notions are flawed. Four years of residency is not significantly less than the average time any citizen of the United States resides at a “permanent” address. And in paying significant sums in off-campus rent and county sales taxes, student money is directly contributing to the operation of local government.
Livingston County Democratic Commissioner of Elections Laura Schoonover advised that college students in Livingston County have always had the option of registering to vote at their home or at their college address of residence; there has never been a ban against college student voting at the college address for either on-campus or off-campus residents.
However, the Board of Elections is not the overseer of school district elections. The New York State Department of Education has set forth its own election criteria which differ somewhat from general and local election criteria. (For example, school districts do not have to convert to electronic voting machines until 2012.)
For both general and school elections, voters must be adult (18-or-older) citizens of the United States and residents of district where they are voting. School district elections are less stringent than general elections in that school elections do not require voter registration prior to the election.
The main proposition in the Oct. 7 school election included, among many items, renovation of the existing six track lanes. It was approved by voters 459-to-291.
The separate proposition which proposed expansion of the track from six to eight lanes was rejected by the voters 404-to-341.