This article is part of a series called “The Trauma of Racism,” where we highlight the effects racism can have on minority populations.
In light of voter suppression measures that have taken place across the country, student activist Sadia Saba shared her thoughts on this new wave of efforts to limit voter access.
The Bard College senior has come off of her own successful lawsuit against the Dutchess County Board of Elections, where she fought to establish a polling place on campus for the 2020 election.
“If this country prides itself on being the world’s top democracy, we have to make democratic behaviors as accessible as possible,” she said. “I think the country it fails in many ways to do that.”
The Queens native started getting involved in civic engagement after encouraging her brother to vote in the 2016 presidential election.
“I told him [he] might vote for the first female president of the United States, and [his] vote is gonna go down in history, I think something like that really encouraged him to go to the polls,” she said. “He made it to one polling place, they told him his name was not on the record. We had to drive over to a different one. Finally he was able to vote but it kind of annoyed me because it became such a huge inconvenience.”
Now as a student at Bard, Saba feels as though college students in particular are unfairly targeted by the county election commission for voting in the area where they go to college, even though they live on campus typically for a four-year period.
“A lot of people try to say that about college students, that we don’t actually live here,” she said. “I really disagree with that, because we spent four years of our lives here, and we’re impacted by county laws just as much as everyone else, We still ride the same buses, we still go to the same supermarkets, we’re still driving on the same roads. These laws are affecting us too.”
It was for this reason that as an intern with Election@Bard, a nonpartisan voting rights initiative on campus, she became a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Dutchess County Board of Elections alongside the Center for Civic Engagement at Bard and the Andrew Goodman Foundation, an organization that works to support youth voices in democracy. The board had determined that the closest polling location to Bard College would be in a nearby church that was not accessible to many students, who lacked transportation.
“In terms of me being a plaintiff on the lawsuit, it was mostly because I was the only student among our student leadership team that was actually registered to vote here,” she said. “I was directly impacted by this law that [says] we have to be voting in the church.”
They were able to get a polling place established on campus, but only for the 2020 election thus far. Still, Saba expressed that at the time they were able to achieve that victory, there was still some hesitancy on the part of her peers of color to vote in a town that does not have a diverse population to begin with.
“It does seem to me that there is a very distinct sense of fear upon voting,” she said. “I know some students, namely black students, were actually afraid about having a polling place on campus, because Dutchess County is not the most diverse place. Looking like we do, it’s a little bit hard to go to places where you’re underrepresented, just in terms of intimidation.”
Saba also weighed in on the controversial voter suppression law in Georgia, along with New York’s ongoing voting dysfunction. Despite the latter state’s distinction as a blue state, there have been reports of long voting lines even as laws were passed in 2019 to make it easier for residents to vote.
“When there are more avenues to vote, [such as] early voting and absentee voting, there’s just so many more opportunities that young people could have to express their political views, and that’s important,” she said. “If you are constantly trying to restrict that, it really does affect people.”