On one hand, we expect school officials to ensure the safety of our children by turning their buildings into fortresses.
On the other hand, several times a year, we require that school districts fling open their doors, while classes are in session, to anyone who wanders in off the street under the guise of voting.
Holding elections in school buildings is logical. They have a lot of space for voting booths. They’re usually conveniently located. They usually have ample parking. And they’re handicapped accessible.
If schools couldn’t be used as polling places, election officials would have to find alternative locations, which could result in higher costs, as well as potentially longer lines at the polls and limited access for the elderly and disabled.
But with all the legitimate concerns over school safety these days — including the fear of school shooters and the more recent development of paroled sex offenders having their voting rights restored — it’s time to add voting in school buildings to the list of familiar practices we need to reconsider.
The state Legislature will take up a number of potential solutions this year.
One bill, A0155, would let districts apply to opt out of the law requiring schools to make space for elections if they feel a building isn’t secure enough to protect students. That would at least give school officials some control over their buildings that they don’t now have.
Another bill, S0108, would lift the requirement that school buildings be open for voter registration or used as a polling place when school is in session or when minors are scheduled to be present. S0116 goes even further by all-out prohibiting schools from serving as polling places.
Another solution that would allow school buildings to continue to be used as polling places is just not to hold elections on days when kids are in school.
Right now, school district elections are held in May, political primaries are held in June and September, and general elections are held, of course, in November.
The issue could become even more pressing if the state extends voting over several days as part of election reform.
The federal and state primaries could be consolidated into a day when school isn’t in session, such as in August. That’s easy. The other elections could be held on staff development days or holidays. Or the state could declare Election Day a state holiday. All would work.
It might seem silly, but as we’ve learned, no potential threat can be ignored and no potential safety measure to protect our children from harm can be dismissed. Welcome to 2019.