School boards reject call to prohibit school-based polling places

By Jean Lotus Staff Reporter
Voters chat in front of Grant-White School polling place in Forest Park Nov. 8. District 91 held a teacher institute day with no student classes. (Chronicle Illinois Media)

Voters chat in front of Grant-White School polling place in Forest Park Nov. 8. District 91 held a teacher institute day with no student classes. (Chronicle Illinois Media)

On election days, many in Illinois cast ballots at their neighborhood school. But using a school building as a polling place often presents security and financial challenges to school districts.

In Illinois, school boards may choose to vote not to hold classes on Election Day to avoid strangers entering the schools and possibly interacting with students. Many schools choose to hold teacher institute training days without students present.

School boards also have a right to refuse to allow the local election authority to use their buildings.

A proposal to prohibit all Illinois schools from being used as polling places was voted down Nov. 19 by members of the Illinois Association of School Boards at their annual meeting.

A proposal floated by board members of suburban Indian Prairie Consolidated Unit School District 204 was defeated 173-143 by a group of 357 school-board leaders from 21 different state regions.

The Aurora/Naperville district has argued that not holding school on Nov. 8 is costly and allowing adults inside during the school day requires expensive security staff and training — up to $10,000 to hire local part-time police officers at 20 schools.

The district has even proposed changing the days of local elections, not tied to state or national races, from Tuesday to the weekend.

Indian Prairie’s Mark Rising said student safety was the most important thing.

“Yes, our schools are public buildings and we should offer them to the public as much as possible. But we live in a different age and time,” Rising said in a statement released by the IASB 2016 Joint Annual Conference held in Chicago. “We have children in these schools, and it’s taking the choice away from us, when we are responsible for their safety.”

School security was top on the list at the IASB conference, which offered eight different panels about school-safety issues. A report presented at the conference pointed out that 27 school shootings have taken place in the United States since 2000, including the Sandy Hook, Conn. shooting where 20 children and several adults were killed.

Some election authorities have already decided to find alternatives to school buildings. Tazewell County Clerk Christie Webb and the county election authorities moved polling places out of East Peoria schools this year and into the town’s Festival Building. Other school sites were moved into a local municipal building and community centers.

The Winnebago County Board of Elections removed almost all polling places from schools in 2012.

The DuPage County Election Commission has reduced the number of polling places located in schools from more than 250 in 2010 to fewer than 65 by consolidating precincts.

In Lake County in Moraine Township, almost all precincts were removed from schools before the November 2012 election, except two precincts at an elementary school and a middle school.

School-board leaders voted to keep the decision at the district level, upholding an IASB policy from 2007. Board members from rural downstate districts objected to the change.

“We have a small community. How dare we not allow our citizens into our schools?” said Roslon Seals of Brookwood SD 167, in a statement.

A board member from Quincy SD 172 pointed out that seeing adults vote was educational all by itself.

“Removing civic education from the eyes of our children is not right,” said Carol Nichols, according to a press release with spoken comments before the school boards voted.





— School boards reject call to prohibit school-based polling places —