By Brianne Ledda and Alexander Bakirdan
Stony Brook students faced confusion and extra paperwork when they tried to vote on campus on Tuesday, Nov. 5.
Students who switched dorm buildings on campus since the last voting cycle were asked to fill out affidavits, worrying some that their votes wouldn’t count. Affidavit votes do count, but they have to be verified first.
Affidavit ballots are paper ballots used when a voter isn’t listed at their polling location. This might occur if a voter becomes inactive, which could happen if voters don’t reply to confirmation notices that are sent by the local Board of Elections (BOE) or when the BOE receives information that the voter may have changed addresses.
New York State law says that a voter who claims to have moved to a new address within the election district they are registered in shall be permitted to vote in the same manner as other voters unless challenged on other grounds.
“So the new thing that’s happening with voting on campus this election is that once they’ve switched to an electronic system for verifying voter registration, students are being asked to verify their campus address… that they’ve registered with, not necessarily currently where they live,” Lucy Gordon, a junior psychology and women’s studies double major working for the Center for Civic Justice, said. Voters were signed in with iPads this year.
If students don’t remember the address they registered with, they’re being asked to fill out an affidavit ballot, she explained. Those affidavit ballots will be verified later to confirm that the students do live on campus.
Husbaan Sheikh, a sophomore political science major also working for the Center for Civic Justice, added that sometimes a voter registration status can be marked inactive when students switch dorms on campus.
“I went to go early vote and I had to fill out an affidavit ballot because my admissions were deemed invalid and inactive because I switched dorms in the past semester,” Sheikh said.
Reimy Concepcion, a junior English major voting for the second time, had to fill out a change of address because she switched dorm buildings on campus since last year. She said voting was more difficult than last year, and expressed concern because she heard that affidavit votes don’t count.
“I’m still getting into the groove of voting,” Concepcion said. “I feel like after this experience it kind of did turn me away. I mean, like, I’m not going to let it stop me but like, it is a little deterring.”
Holly Rapkin, a sophomore psychology major, said that she filled out a form in the mail declaring an address change at the beginning of the semester, but needed to fill out an affidavit anyway because she wasn’t in the system.
“It was mildly annoying that they still didn’t have me in the system, even though I filled out the address change like a month ago, but it didn’t really make a huge difference,” she said.
Other students who either just moved on or off campus, such as freshman physics major Matthew Oldaker, were told that they needed to vote in their home district.
Oldaker, who was voting for the first time, was turned away from the polls. He was living at home in West Islip until a week ago, when he moved on campus.
“My voting location is there right now so to vote I would have to go back home,” he said. West Islip is approximately a 40 minute drive from Stony Brook for Oldaker. He said he didn’t plan on going home to vote.
Around 3 p.m., an election official told a Statesman reporter who was trying to vote that the polling station ran out of affidavit forms. They were turned away again when they returned an hour later. The reporter returned a second time around 5 p.m. and was able to vote via affidavit ballot.
A representative from Suffolk County’s Board of Elections said that students who switched dorms on campus and are not new voters should not have been required to fill out the affidavits since their names should still be in the system.
Trouble at the polls wasn’t the only issue for students this election day either. Members of the Stony Brook College Democrats were asked to stop canvassing, according to multiple sources from the club.
“[The poll coordinator] pulled me aside and he said that he’d received a complaint that we were harassing people, telling them to vote,” Sean Lange, a senior political science major and member of the College Democrats, said.
The College Democrats were encouraging students to vote along Zebra Path and inside the library. It’s illegal to canvas within 100 feet of an active polling station, which, in this case, was the Student Activities Center (SAC).
A representative from Suffolk County’s Board of Elections said that if inspectors receive complaints about canvassing, they’re expected to move the canvassers.
Lange said he was meeting a friend who was confused by the affidavit form in the SAC when he was first pulled aside. He and other College Democrats were later asked to leave the SAC a second time when Lange tried to learn more about the complaints.
“The same guy from earlier who had come up to me, he came out and he started yelling at us, saying that we needed to leave now and we were blocking people from voting,” Lange said. At the time, he was talking to a friend that he’d run into, junior political science major Joshua Koff.
Koff, who is also a member of the College Democrats, said that they were confused about why they were being reproached. They were standing in the hall between SAC Ballroom A and the back entrance to the SAC.
In a video obtained by The Statesman, an election inspector tells Koff and his friends, “If you don’t get out of this area, I will have you removed from the building.” The inspector walked away when they tried to ask why.
The Statesman decided not to disclose the video in this article because the official is identifiable and the Suffolk County Board of Elections did not respond to a request for comment before this article was published.
“We were just standing there having a conversation,” Koff said. “He refused to answer us. He just kept saying that we had to go and if we didn’t leave on our own, he would force us to leave.”
Steven Adelson, Coordinator from the Center for Civic Justice, came out afterwards to figure out what had happened, Koff said. Adelson did not reply to a request for comment before this article was published.
The Stony Brook College Republicans were not canvassing on campus and did not encounter any issues. However, at least two members were confused by affidavits, Eric Wagner, vice president of the College Republicans and a junior economics and political science double major, said.
Gary Ghayrat contributed reporting.