State officials supporting a bill in the Illinois General Assembly that would prohibit schools from serving as polling places say that safety is the reason behind the legislation. And, certainly, with the Sandy Hook School shooting still fresh in everyone’s mind, you can’t blame people for wanting to err on the side of caution when it comes to throwing open the doors to schools.
However, we don’t believe the legislation is particularly feasible. There are so many schools serving as polling places that it would be a tall task indeed to try to find replacement polling places that are suitable.
Not only are schools public places, they typically come equipped to handle the arrival of the general public in large numbers — they are accessible to all kinds of people and they typically come equipped with plenty of parking.
Schools make sense in that they are public community centers inside residential areas and usually within walking distance from any voter in the precincts served by the polling place.
To our knowledge the biggest issues at polling places on election day are not ones regarding safety, but ones regarding overzealous political workers.
Simply as accessible, familiar public buildings, schools make all the sense in the world as polling places.
School officials contend that Election Day is a pain from a scheduling standpoint and that having to use Election Day as a day off or institute day leaves them with less flexibility.
But if everyone was working under the same restrictions — how about legislation that all public schools must be out of session on Election Day? — it would seem that the scheduling problem would disappear and schools would remain safe zones.
Or, how about we simply change the conversation to one about making it easier for people to vote? Early voting (unfortunately diminished in length) has proven to be popular among voters. Other states allow people to vote by mail, at their own convenience.
Perhaps the best solution would be to move Election Day from Tuesday to Saturday or Sunday. It seems to us that there is simply no reason, other than archaic tradition, for voting on Tuesday.
Moving Election Day to a weekend would make it far easier for people to vote and, as Cook County Clerk David Orr has indicated, would broaden the pool of election judges and administrators.
By moving elections to weekends, officials can address the issues of school safety and voter access at the same time.
We understand the motivation behind the recent legislation, but ask that state representatives and senators look for more than just a facile solution, when a more comprehensive one is available to them.
Access to the ballot needs to become easier, not more difficult. Moving polling places out of schools won’t accomplish the goal of making voting easier.