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Schools’ future as polling places in question

GENEVA – Public and private schools might be removed as polling places for the 2014 election cycle, if an amendment to a bill in the Illinois House of Representatives is successful.

The measure would amend the state election code and change the requirement that school districts have to make public buildings available as polling places on election days.

State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, State Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, State Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon and the Illinois Association of the Chiefs of Police are calling for the legislation as a safety issue.

Limey Nargelenas, a lobbyist for the chiefs of police, said checks at school polling places in November revealed a near total lack of security.

“I was at a school [with] Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, and there was no security,” Nargelenas said. “People were walking into the building, looking for bathrooms. It was pretty chaotic. It violated all our security principles.”

Particularly considering the recent shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., officials were taking a closer look at the issues.

Other locations for polling could be city or village halls, police departments, fire departments and churches. Another possibility would be for school polling places to not have student attendance on days in which elections are taking place, he said.

Franks said he is waiting to put an amendment on House Bill 34 to accomplish that.

“Protecting our children from harm is the most fundamental and basic duty of government,” Franks said. “There are protocols that need to be followed, and there is no reason to abandon school safety protocols at any time, including Election Day.”

Franks said there has been a lot of push-back on the proposal.

“It’s not a done deal yet,” Franks said. “We’re looking for a compromise. We have terrible voter turnout, and we do not want to do anything that is going to affect that. But we cannot expect to put our common sense aside on Election Day.”

Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham said his office and the regional school office have been working on the issue for months.

“The law now says they have to let us use the schools, and they were wonderful,” Cunningham said. “They [schools] are [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliant; there’s plenty of parking and restrooms.”

Cunningham said Kane County has 17 schools that are polling places, seven of which were open for a recent primary election. He said a police officer with a squad car was at every one of the primary locations from 6 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. when school was out for the day.

“No matter what you do, you cannot guarantee anything,” Cunningham said.

A statement released by Cook County Clerk David Orr seeks to have the legislation make election days no-school days, rather than remove polling from the schools, which would be two days in an even-numbered year and one day in an odd-numbered year. More than a third of the county’s 1,673 precincts have schools as polling places. Orr also supports a movement to have elections take place on Saturdays.

Voting at school

Local schools currently listed by the Kane County Clerk as polling places include: J.B Nelson, H.C. Storm, Hoover-Wood Elementary and Rotolo Middle School in Batavia; Jewel Middle School in North Aurora; Mill Creek Elementary in Blackberry Township; Coultrap Facility and Western Avenue School in Geneva.

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