School Board Member Questions Safety of Voting in Some Schools

School Board Member Questions Safety of Voting in Some Schools

2:02pm Sep 25, 2013
Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools member considers safety issues with voting at schools.
Alan Cleaver via flickr

  Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school officials are looking at the possibility of making changes to the way people vote in precincts located in local schools.

The issue arose during a school board meeting last week, when the board was briefed about a pilot program in 11 elementary schools and one middle school that requires a school employee to “buzz in” visitors to the school. During the recent city primary, people coming to vote had to be buzzed in one at a time, creating a disruption at the school, board member Jeanne Metcalf said. The pilot program was installed to add a layer of screening to visitors to the schools following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school last year in Connecticut. The conversation prompted Metcalf to voice concerns about safety of the children on voting days.

“Two times a year having doors thrown open to anyone to walk in off the street who says they’re voting, to me is not a very safe practice," she says. "And I think reasonable people can start a conversation about possibly looking for some different places to have these folks come vote.”

Metcalf said she’s not trying to close any precincts. But she wants school and elections officials to look at whether there are ways to keep voters and students separated, and where that’s not possible, to look for alternate locations.

“There are some things that can be done that leaves the schools open. But lots of our schools have classes in the auditorium, have classes in the gymnasium, because of overcrowding. In those schools, there’s no place to put a voting apparatus where you can cordon off that process from students.”

The state legislature this year made broad changes to the state’s election laws, which have prompted concerns about voter access.  Metcalf said safety - and not access - was the motivation to look at possible changes in the school precincts. She said high schools and middle schools have law enforcement presence on campus and buildings such as gyms that can be separated from the classroom part of campus. But that’s not true for all elementary schools, and that’s what she wants the school and election boards to consider. 

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