By Wendy UnderhillThe Election Academy, by Doug Chapin addressed the use of schools as polling places on February 4. Chapin wonders if we'll see fewer schools used as polling places, as a safety measure in the post-Sandy Hook era. He notes that an election official in Cumberland County, Penn., considered relocating polling places out of schools (In the end, only one polling place was moved.)
Chapin's analysis is this:
Moves like these are significant both because of the prevalence of school-based precincts as well as--at least up to now—widespread acceptance of the practice. Moreover, schools provide space for elections at no extra charge to taxpayers. In addition, we now know that any change in polling places can create confusion and cost the local election office time and money to implement the change.
While the Cumberland example highlighted action taken by an election official, legislators are taking action as well. So far this year, bills that relate to schools as polling places have been filed in at least three states including: Indiana, New York and Virginia. Other states, such as New Jersey, are likely to follow suit if history serves as a guide.
Legislative objectives include:
- Not permitting schools to be used at all (Indiana HB 1244, New York AB 2036, Virginia HB 2204)
- Permitting schools to be used only if the governing body of the school affirmatively adopts a policy to do so (Indiana HB 1156)
- Allowing schools to close on Election Day (New York AB 662,)
- Prohibiting certain sex offenders from voting at schools, while permitting them to vote by absentee ballot (New York AB 3037)
- Requiring schools that serve as polling places to have a written security plan (New Jersey SB 997, from a 2012 bill).
While Sandy Hook may provide a strong incentive for this kind of legislation, schools-as-polling-place legislation is not new. For instance, New York Assemblymember Bill Reilich (R) has been pushing AB 662 for several years. He says, "I'm looking to protect the children."
While security is a pressing concern, it's not easy to "just say no" to schools. For some election administrators, including Brian Newby, who writes a blog about his experiences, finding free polling places is one of the hardest parts of the job. Read his "War on Polling Places" piece to get the feel for it.