[Image courtesy of bakedbree]
This week, Rhode Island lawmakers enacted a bill that would permit community groups like parent-teacher organizations (PTOs) to hold bake sales outside polling places on Election Day.
The bill, S 58 sponsored by Sen. Frank Lombardi of Cranston, would clarify that bake sales do not interfere with an election in violation of state law. Legislation became necessary when concerns arose about the effect of bake sales on voting, as the Providence Journal reports:
“I am really very happy for the Cranston PTOs and other school organizations around the state that have used these events to raise money for worthy causes,” Lombardi said in a news release. “These bakes sales had been going on for years without any incidents or problems … and as long as those events were not hindering people from casting their votes, I saw no reason to prevent them from taking place.”
The bake-sale debate arose last year after Robert Kando, the elections board’s executive director, informed Cranston school officials and a PTO president that according to a preexisting statute, “holding a bake sale would interfere with the election process,” a felony under state law.
Parent-teacher organizations have held Election Day bake sales at the polls for years in Rhode Island, however, recent inquiries in Cranston triggered Kando’s response that the sales are illegal.
Lombardi said under the current law, bake sales are technically illegal, and “laws with good intentions can have unfortunate consequences.”
The bill now goes to the Governor.
In one sense, this is a sweet (pun intended) story, but it also highlights the degree to which school buildings are increasingly in demand as public spaces, including on Election Day – and the impact that has on communities. The Presidential Commission on Election Administration has expressly called for schools to be used as polling places, with in-service days in those communities where security concerns suggest keeping students out of school on days when voters use the building.
On the face of it, this makes sense – but it creates pressure on school systems who are already being asked to scrutinize every dollar spent. In that environment, it’s easy to see why PTOs and similar organizations might be frustrated with not only being kept out – but kept away – on Election Day when there is an opportunity to raise funds to supplement dwindling budgets.
There will always be implementation concerns – you don’t want voters having to run a gauntlet of aggressive cupcake and coffee sellers in order to vote – but this bill still seems like a worthwhile compromise between protecting the polling place and respecting the communities who are sharing (or giving up) the building for the day.
Not an earth-shattering issue, but not trivial either. Stay sweet – and tuned!