DC schools may be out as early voting sites for November election

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The District may not use schools as early voting sites in the November general election following safety concerns from parents over using them this month for early voting.

The reconsideration of voting locations comes amid a national push to restrict public access to schools following a deadly mass shooting in a Texas elementary school last month. It also illustrates the tension between making it harder to enter schools while also making polling non-intimidating locations and accessible places to vote.

The DC Board of Elections first told The Post on Thursday that staff had decided not to use any schools as early voting sites for the November election. On Friday, after The Post published news of that decision, spokesman Nick Jacobs said that the board is still mulling the decision of whether to use schools.

Early voting for the DC prime spans more than a week, launching June 10 and running until June 19. The city is using a dozen public school campuses as early voting sites, and 43 schools as election Day voting sites on June 21. The last day of school is June 27.

Typically visitors to DC schools, including parents, need to provide photo identification to enter, but voters only need to provide proof of residency to cast a ballot, not a photo identification.

“It kind of pits the protocols that are important for the school administration to feel like they are running a safe school versus what election officials need to run a fair election,” said Priya Cook, a mother of two students at Bancroft Elementary in Mount Pleasant , which is being used as an early voting site.

Long lines in the 2020 election coupled with a need during the coronavirus pandemic for more spacious polling locations pushed the city to seek around 30 large sites across all eight awards for early voting. The Board of Elections settled on public recreation centers and libraries — as well as cafeterias and gymnasiums in school buildings.

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Jacobs said the board attempted to use recreation centers, but some wards didn’t have enough of them with ample space, forcing the city to turn to schools. The board assessed polling places’ security needs, and paid for security guards for schools where elections officials found a need, he said.

“We need bigger areas like gymnasiums to accommodate more space and more equipment, and also with covid to not have everyone too bunched up,” Jacobs said. ”

After the primary, the board will assess whether it operates more polling locations than necessary this election cycle, he said.

Kenneth S. Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, which consults with schools on safety plans, said public schools are frequently used as voting locations across the country, including in the District. Safety concerns emerged after the Columbine High school shooting in 1999, he said, and it’s now common for school districts to cancel classes for Election Day, often holding planning days for teachers so children are not in the building.

But, he said, it gets more complicated when counties and cities use schools as early voting sites for extended periods and officials cannot guard voting locations as they would school buildings on a typical day. Having police officers in voting locations, for example, could be perceived as voting intimidation.

Trump said he is not aware of safety issues that have occurred inside schools on voting days, but that it presents “one more potential opportunity that you may be opening up access to someone who may have ill intentions.”

“There is not a lot of logic to it,” he said. “We are going to fortify our schools, spend millions of dollars on it, to make sure that strangers do not have access to school — except for 2 to 3 days when anyone can get it in while school is in session.” He offers some safety suggestions, including restricting one part of the school that ideally has its own entrance for voting.

Turnout at many of the city’s early voting centers has been low so far; Bancroft had recorded 115 early voters between June 10 and June 15. Oyster-Adams Bilingual School in Northwest Washington recorded 68 ballots. And Kimball Elementary in Southeast Washington had just 46 early votes in that time.

“If there’s 10 people that show up in that voting place during a week of early voting, maybe it’s not worth it,” said Michele Cerebelli, a parent of two students at Oyster-Adams Bilingual School.

DC-area schools to step up security in wake of Texas school shooting

Cerebelli was so concerned when he heard that Oyster-Adams Bilingual School would be used as a polling place throughout early voting this year that he called the assistant principal who said she had been getting many similar calls.

The school normally locks its doors during the day, Cerebelli said, but has to keep the entrance to the polling place open.

“Someone claiming he’s a voter can get access to the school,” Cerebelli said. “With what happened recently in Texas, I dislike the idea.”

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