Fearing Election Day trouble, some U.S. schools cancel classes
FALMOUTH, Maine — Rigged elections. Vigilante observers. Angry voters. The claims, threats and passions surrounding the presidential race have led communities around the U.S. to move polling places out of schools or cancel classes on Election Day.
The fear is that the ugly rhetoric of the campaign could escalate into confrontations and even violence in school hallways, endangering students.
“If anybody can sit there and say they don’t think this is a contentious election, then they aren’t paying much attention,” said Ed Tolan, police chief in this seaside community, which decided to call off classes on Election Day and put additional officers on duty Nov. 8.
In York County, only the York City School District and Eastern York School District have school buildings that double as polling places on Election Day. In York City, Goode K-8, Hannah Penn K-8 and Jackson K-8 will all host polling places. Eastern High School and the Eastern Administrative Offices will also double as polling locations.
Lindsay Good, secretary to the superintendent at Eastern York School District, said the district will not be closing on Election Day and has no plans on their end to increase security, but she's unsure of what kind of security the polling officials will provide.
Erin James, spokeswoman for York City School District, said there is no plan to cancel classes at any of the district's schools on Election Day.
"The district has offered its schools as community polling places for many years, and we do not anticipate the need to alter that routine," she wrote in an email.
On edge: Elsewhere, school officials already are on edge because of shootings and threats that have become all too common are taking no chances. They point to the recent firebombing of a Republican Party office in one North Carolina county and the shooting up of another with a BB gun as the type of trouble they fear on Election Day.
Some of those anxieties have been stoked by Donald Trump’s repeated claims that the election is rigged and his appeal to his supporters to stand guard against fraud at the polls. Some are worried about clashes between the self-appointed observers and voters.
Parent Alpay Balkir said he is glad children will be home. His 8-year-old son is a student in Falmouth, where the high school doubles as a polling place.
“If it’s going to be as chaotic as they say it’s going to be, it’s a good thing. Kids should stay out of it,” Balkir said. “I don’t know what the environment is going to be like.”
Schools are popular polling places because they have plenty of parking and are usually centrally located. It’s difficult to say how many school-based polling places have been moved this year, given how decentralized the voting process is across the country.
But state and local officials say voting has been removed or classes canceled on Election Day at schools in Illinois, Maine, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and elsewhere.
“There is a concern, just like at a concert, sporting event or other public gathering, that we didn’t have 15 or 20 years ago. What if someone walks in a polling location with a backpack bomb or something?” said Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, co-chairman of the National Association of Secretaries of State election committee. “If that happens at a school, then that’s certainly concerning.”
Despite the concerns, the National Association of Secretaries of State does not advocate having armed guards or police stationed at the polls because their presence could intimidate voters.
Pressure: Some of the pressure to close schools on Election Day or move voting is coming from parents. Sara Andriotis, a mother in the Easton, Pennsylvania, area, pushed for voting to be taken out of local schools.
“We were mostly concerned because of the risk that it puts our children in,” she said.
Easton Superintendent John Reinhart wanted to get voting out of schools altogether but was rebuffed by county election officials. So the school board canceled classes on Election Day.
“If you take the personalities away and cast the emotion with the election aside, one has to ask the question: ‘Are our schools the best places for that activity to take place?’” he said. “I just think we’ve reached the point where we need to look at other locations.”
That’s happening in Hall County, Nebraska, which is moving six polling places out of schools. Voting will take place in four churches and two community centers.
Election officials elsewhere say that schools are vital places for voting and that removing them as polling places creates logistical headaches and voter confusion.
“We wouldn’t be able to conduct voting without them,” said Pam Anderson, executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association. She said voting in schools has not generally been a concern in Colorado but acknowledged there is likely to be more security this year.