School’s Out – As a Polling Place? NJ Town Seeks New Voting Locations

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[Image courtesy of USAToday]

In recent months, I’ve blogged about security concerns regarding school polling places as well as frustration in New Jersey about the twin elections scheduled for this fall. Now those two issues have come together as a Bergen County town, citing this fall’s crowded election calendar, is seeking alternatives for its school-based polling places. North Jersey.com has more:

The Glen Rock school district has requested that school buildings be replaced as borough polling places this fall, noting that three separate elections are looming in New Jersey and citing security and building access concerns.

To fill the one-year unexpired term of late New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg, Democratic and Republican primaries are set for Aug. 13, with a special election for the senate seat following on Wednesday, Oct. 16. The dates were set by Gov. Chris Christie in June.

The general election, deciding the New Jersey gubernatorial race, contests for all 120 state legislature seats and two seats on the Glen Rock Borough Council is Tuesday, Nov. 5.

In July, school Superintendent Paula Valenti noted the special circumstances in a letter to the Bergen County Board of Elections, with a request that this year’s voting be relocated to Glen Rock sites other than the four district schools where gymnasiums are currently polling places.

“I have sent formal letters to the county offices requesting permission to relocate the upcoming voting, as there are three separate voting events in the fall,” Valenti confirmed in an email to the Glen Rock Gazette. “The issue is one of access to buildings and school safety.”

While town officials are sympathetic to the request, they are nonetheless concerned about the short list of alternatives:

At the July 22 Borough Council work session, Mayor John van Keuren told colleagues that borough administration had since been notified of Valenti’s request by the county board. Regarding the likelihood of changes, he said, “There are some fairly significant administrative issues to be dealt with if that’s going to take place; not the least of which is, if not schools, then where?”

Borough Clerk Jacqueline Scalia – whose responsibility includes selection of polling locations to be submitted for county board approval – later told the Glen Rock Gazette that in addition to generally limited alternative sites in the borough, the fact that substitute venues must be in the same district as those they replace makes the prospect all the more difficult. She indicated that while possible alternative locations would be investigated, there was no commitment that changes would be recommended.

State law and practice would also seem to present a challenge:

Under state law, the county board is ultimately empowered to determine where municipal polling sites are located. According to board information, state guidelines continue to favor public school buildings, with well over half of all Bergen County voting now done in school facilities.

As I’ve noted before, this is likely to be a growing issue across the country. School buildings have long been favored as polling places because of issues like parking and accessibility, but security concerns and the ever-crowding election calendar may lead other communities to share the same doubts Glen Rock is experiencing.

It’s a tough question that I’ll be watching throughout the upcoming election cycle.

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