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If you voted during your state’s 2016 presidential primaries, chances are you did so at a public school building. Schools are low cost, spacious and accessible, making them desirable polling locations for about a quarter of the United States.
However, for the past several years there has been growing concern expressed by parents as well as school officials about safety. By opening up the building to the public, schools are compromising their usual safety protocol and thus creating an opportunity for danger. Allowing voters to flow freely through the building during elections has enraged many parents, who, must produce identification at the front office, sign in, and wear a visitor badge just to volunteer in their own children’s classrooms on a normal school day.
And with record turnout expected for this year’s presidential election, the conversation is heating up again.
Potential dangers of opening a school to voters could include everything from thousands of strangers in the building to increased car traffic in the parking lots and neighborhoods surrounding schools. Rarer, but still a threat, is the potential for non-custodial parents to use the chaos of election day as an opportunity to access their children.
Some districts, like East Peoria Illinois are combining precincts and moving polling locations out of schools and churches to reduce risk.
How To Keep School Buildings Secure During Elections
In the wake of recent active shooter incidents, many schools have already increased their day-to-day security measures. Here are some specific tactics used by schools that double as polling locations during elections:
- Police or security presence
- Access control
- Isolating voter traffic away from students
- Combining several precincts into one location (eliminating the need for so many school buildings)
Those who feel that voting at public school locations is a non-issue cite the fact that there has never been an incident that threatened students or staff safety during an election. Additionally, many fear that the cost of elections will increase, and voter turnout may decrease if polling locations are moved out of schools and into to alternative spaces such as fire halls, churches and civic centers.
The easiest solution to this issue, (and the one favored by students everywhere) is what many school districts around the country have already begun doing: canceling classes on election days and instead making them an in-service day for staff. This has inspired parents in some districts to start petitions to move locations out of their schools.
However, by holding more elections outside of school buildings and/or canceling classes, some argue that we will lose an opportunity to for kids to witness one of the greatest privileges of living in this country: the right to vote. Whatever the solution, most people agree that student safety should be prioritized over voter convenience.
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