In the wake of recent school shootings across the country, some Fulton County parents are pushing officials to consider ending the use of school buildings as Election Day polling places. But the county’s elections director says that could disenfranchise voters in places with few alternative polling locations.
Meanwhile, Fulton County Schools is considering one option it seems everyone can agree on: making the next general election day, Nov. 6, a teacher work day, so students would stay home.
Liliana Brenner and Kristin Sharpe, co-presidents of the North Fulton Council PTA, said in joint emails that local PTA units are “evaluating the impact of hosting polling stations in schools.”
“There are concerns that these stations cannot be established while maintaining a separation of voters from students; this potentially impacts student and school security,” they wrote. “…We are not aware of any specific incidents but want to be proactive about the safety of the children in our schools.”
Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell) said a new Senate school safety committee, for which he wrote the authorizing legislation, will “definitely” discuss the polling place issue. “I have just recently been asked about this issue and plan to review it,” Albers said in an email. “Safety has to be [the] Number One priority.”
Richard Barron, director of the Fulton County elections department, said that some precincts have few options for polling places besides school buildings and barring access could reduce voting rights.
“If we tried to get out of some [schools], our activist groups [and] neighborhood associations, would be up in arms,” Barron said. “You can disenfranchise voters by moving out of polling places.”
The parental concerns are not coming from any recent incident in Fulton schools. The impetus is a similar discussion in Cobb County, where officials are reportedly discussing both school safety and difficulty in voters getting through school security – which Barron said is not a problem in Fulton. Cobb County officials did not respond to comment requests. The Atlanta and DeKalb school districts did not have immediate comment on whether they are hearing similar concerns.
Brenner and Sharpe said north Fulton parents are working on the issue with the Georgia PTA. The Virginia-based National PTA said it is unaware of any polling place debates. “We have not heard anything here at National PTA about such concerns,” and the organization does not have a position on the issue, said spokesperson Heidi May Wilson.
Fulton Board of Education Vice President Linda McCain raised the issue at the board’s June 12 meeting. As a short-term measure, she asked Fulton Schools Superintendent Jeff Rose to consider making Election Day on Nov. 6 a teacher work day “so our students are not in the building…which would go a long way toward alleviating safety concerns parents have.”
On teacher work days, students do not attend classes at a school building, though the Election Day version might have them doing schoolwork at home via computer.
Rose said administration officials will “go back and look at the implications” of making Election Day a teacher work day and follow up with the board.
Barron, the Fulton elections director, said that similar teacher work days have been scheduled for previous major elections, such as presidential contests. He said he supports doing it again as “everyone would feel better” and it could reduce parking and traffic problems.
In his perfect system, he said, voting would be on weekends. But he objected to the idea of removing polling places from schools altogether. “I don’t like moving polling places,” Barron said. “I don’t particularly care for consolidating polling places, and I don’t want voters to get disenfranchised… It’s not just good public policy. Fulton County is the heart of the Civil Rights movement.”