Recommendation: Keep using schools as polling places

Despite security concerns, schools should continue to be used as polling places, a presidential commission says, but classes for students should not be scheduled on election days.

In a 112-page report, the Presidential Commission on Election Administration says school buildings are the best sites for polling places because they have ample, desirable space, and are inexpensive, widely available, conveniently situated, and accessible for people with disabilities.

“With almost no exception, the testimony received from state and local election administrators identified schools as the preferred venue for polling places,” the report states.

About a third of voters in the United States cast their ballots in schools in the November 2012 election, the commission found. But growing concerns about student safety, especially since the December 2012 shooting deaths of students and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., have led many educators and lawmakers to consider moving polling places out of school facilities. As of July, six states had considered bills to restrict access to schools on election days in 2013, the commission says, but none of the states passed legislation.

“Even in states where schools are authorized to serve as polling places, the commission heard that many school districts resist using schools as polling places [because of safety concerns],” the reports says. “This resistance can even extend to cases where the schools appear obligated to make themselves available by statute, but have adopted strategies to avoid being pressed into service.”

One solution, the commission has concluded, is to make school buildings available on election days, but keep students away from campuses on those days.

“Professional training or ‘in-service” days offer an opportunity for the schools to remain on their academic schedule,’ the report says. “If Election Day were an in-service day, students would not be present and teachers could use the day to perform administrative functions and conduct professional training.”

The commission urges school administrators and election officials to work with state legislators to come up with polling place strategies that balance school and electoral administrative needs.

“In the end, there is no better alternative than schools, and there are few locations more familiar and convenient to voters,” the commission concludes. “Most communities do not have adequate alternative sites for polling places. Experience in jurisdictions where schools are used as polling places suggests that if schools are made unavailable, there may be either a crisis of access or a removal of polling places from the proximity of voters. It is known that the farther a polling place is moved from a voter the less likely that the voter will turn out to vote.”

 

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