School’s Out … For … VOTING: High Expected Turnout Causes Fairfax County, VA Schools to Close Election Day

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As the presidential campaign gathers steam and the next week’s March 1 “SEC Primary” comes to several states, school boards in several Virginia counties – including Fairfax County, the commonwealth’s largest – are making plans to close their schools to students in order to accommodate what is expected to be potentially-overwhelming high turnout. The Washington Post has more:

The school board in Fairfax County, Va., voted to shut down schools on Super Tuesday over concerns that the anticipated historic turnout of voters would interfere with the school day, swallowing up parking lots and occupying gyms and cafeterias normally used by schoolchildren.

Schools have typically remained open for primary elections in Fairfax County, which has one of the nation’s largest schools districts, at nearly 190,000 students. But the county, which uses 167 schools as polling places, is expecting 250,000 voters to cast their ballots March 1. More than 1.1 million people live in the Northern Virginia jurisdiction, the state’s largest.

Fairfax County (which typically closes schools for the general election but was originally going to open two hours late on Primary Day) has been debating this decision for several weeks, starting when it appeared there might be controversy about the now-abandoned “loyalty oath” in the GOP primary – but now the prospect of overload has pushed the county to act:

The county’s board of supervisors and office of elections requested that the district keep children home March 1, initially expressing concerns that, in addition to the large turnout, anger over a Virginia Republican Party loyalty oath would cause a security risk at the polls. The state Republican Party had said in December that it would require those voting in the GOP primary to affirm they are Republican by signing a written pledge, a move Republican frontrunner Donald J. Trump and his supporters vehemently opposed because of concerns it would discourage first-time or independent voters…

The Fairfax County School Board said the concerns about overall turnout ultimately were the main reason for closing the schools during the primary.

“Record voter turnouts in New Hampshire and Iowa, and anticipation of an historic voter turnout from the Fairfax County Office of Elections, led the Board to believe that there could be significant logistical issues regarding parking and building access on March 1,” the board said in a news release. “The Board was also concerned that the sheer number of citizens entering schools to vote will make it difficult to conduct a normal school day.”

Fairfax’s move mirrors that of other neighboring counties, though the decision to close is not unanimous:

Schools in neighboring Prince William County, which typically remain open for primary elections, also will close for Super Tuesday. The school board voted last month to shutter schools because of concerns about high turnout, spokesman Phil Kavits said.

The Loudoun County school board has decided to open school two hours late on March 1.

The issue of closing schools – either as a holiday or a teacher in-service day – is one that has been advanced before, most recently by the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, in an effort to afford better access to polling locations by voters. Schools typically are among the best facilities for elections because of accessibility, parking and other issues; moreover, some jurisdictions cite security concerns involved with having so many community members in schools during elections. While a full school closure isn’t warranted for every election because of lower turnout, election offices and school administrators need to work together to ensure that voters and students don’t get in one another’s way on Election Day.

Stay tuned …

 

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