Balance voter convenience, safety
Wednesday, March 13, 2019
With growing concerns about school safety, should schools be forced to open their doors to hundreds of unchecked adults?
Under current North Carolina law, election officials can compel local schools to open their buildings to be polling places regardless of security concerns that school officials may have. In addition, the increased traffic on voting days can make gaining access to schools more difficult for students and increases the danger of traffic accidents involving children. While some school systems respond to those concerns by making elections days teacher work days, that is not practical for all school systems, increasing risks to students.
However, schools are the most convent location for polling places in many precincts. Research by the Raleigh News & Observer found that roughly 20 percent of the polling places used in last November's election were in public schools. A ban on using schools as polling places would likely be highly disruptive as local boards of election scramble to find new accessible locations where citizens can vote.
A proposal currently in the Elections and Ethics Law committee of the NC General Assembly is an attempt to thread the needle between those concerns. H24, sponsored by Reps. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsythe, and Lee Zachary, R-Yadkin, would not prohibit schools from being used as polling places, but would give local school boards the option to refuse to open some school buildings for that purpose. Perhaps more importantly, it gives school boards the power to establish safety protocols for children that election officials must follow:
"If the local board of education consents to the request, the local board of education shall develop a safety plan that the local board of elections shall follow to ensure the security of students at the school while the building is being used as a voting place."
I doubt that many schools would be put off limits as polling places if this proposal is enacted. As elected officials, most school board members are aware of the convenience often associated with using schools as polling places and would likely only ban their use when there is a strong safety or operational concern. In addition, some of them may also be aware of research showing that voting in schools increases the likelihood that voters will support school bonds.
H24 is a moderate solution that addresses real concerns about student safety while still allowing schools to be used as polling places.
Andy Jackson is the elections policy fellow at the conservative Civitas Institute.