Safety concerns at school polling sites

June 12, 2018 06:21 PM

In two weeks, some voters will head to the polls for the federal primary but dozens of polling sites in Monroe County are located inside schools and after the rash of school shootings, parents are concerned about safety.  

While most students will be on summer break at the time of the primary, they’ll be back to school on election day.  

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Every day she sends her kids off to school, Meisha Washington is concerned about their safety, it’s a new reality all parents are dealing with.

“A little nerve-wracking, it's very scary.  I would say, especially with the shootings in the schools,” she tells News10NBC.  

Typically, when school is in session, visitors have to show identification and be buzzed into the front door but on election day, that’s not always the case.

In addition to the general public coming and going from the school buildings, Governor Andrew Cuomo has also pardoned 23,000 parolees, giving them the right to vote this year.

In total, he expects there to be 35,000 eligible parolees able to vote if they re-register in time.

In Monroe County, only a handful of parolees have registered for the primary but some school districts say security has to come first. 

News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke: "Have you been asked not to use a school as a polling place?" 

Commissioner of Monroe County Board of Elections, Thomas F. Ferrarese: "We've been asked, yes."   

Lewke: "You've been asked by school districts who say they're just not comfortable with it anymore?" 

Ferrarese: "Yes."

Lewke: "And what do you do in those cases?"  

Ferrarese: "We try to work through the process.  If we can find an alternate site, we'll move. It’s a little easier in the suburbs than the city." 

Lewke: "You’d have a real problem if the city school district said... no more?" 

Ferrarese: "Yea, we would.  We'd really be in trouble." 

Right now, 19 schools in the City of Rochester are used as polling sites.

The Board of Elections says they are crucial locations because most other buildings in the city that are big enough to accommodate a polling site, are older and not handicap accessible.

There’s also the issue of transportation.

"We have to balance a resource for the community to be able to walk to the polling sites and still the safety of the students and staff in the schools, so we do our best to limit access,” says Lori Baldwin, the Director of Security for the Rochester City School District. 

Baldwin says they try to choose areas of a building where voters can enter and exit directly without having to go through any hallways. When that is not possible, Monroe County provides security guards to make sure the traffic pattern through the school is closely followed.

State legislation has been introduced that would close schools on election day but the New York State Council of School Superintendents opposes that saying it’s already hard enough for some districts to find enough instructional days during the school year. 

Parents should reach out directly to their child’s school principal to discuss how security is handled on primary and election days.  


Jennifer Lewke

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